Beat the ma­chine? Not quite, but close

The Columbus Dispatch - - Sports - MICHAEL ARACE

When Zack St­ef­fen thwarted Vic­tor Vasquez’s first-half penalty kick, Hen­doc’s Pub, the home away from home for the Hud­son Street Hooli­gans, did not ex­plode. It half ex­ploded — and it half gasped.

If you were watch­ing the Crew game on tele­vi­sion, in one of the city’s great soc­cer pubs or in the com­fort of your sud­denly wrecked den — and it’s a good bet you were watch­ing, given the soar­ing lo­cal tele­vi­sion rat­ings — the same thought crossed your mind.

By god, they just might do this. St­ef­fen just might have saved An­thony Pre­court’s soul.

in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals, the goal that the Crew des­per­ately needed never came, and a sec­ond­half Jozy Alti­dore score made the dif­fer­ence.

One last half hour and a pair of of­fen­sive sub­sti­tu­tions couldn’t quite spark the Crew of­fense and will home the one goal needed to ex­tend the team’s sea­son into De­cem­ber.

The Crew gained mo­men­tum and built to­ward the play­offs on an im­prob­a­ble run, at one point go­ing ex­actly three months with­out a loss. A team that many ex­pected to fall in a knock­outround game more than a month ago played into late Novem­ber.

But on Wed­nes­day, the Crew failed to con­vert chances and watched as Toronto ex­e­cuted in a key mo­ment to ad­vance to its sec­ond-straight cup fi­nal.

“For us to go through some of the teams we did and end up in this po­si­tion was good, but to be hon­est, we’re not sat­is­fied,” coach Gregg Ber­hal­ter said. “You go in the locker room, there’s a lot of guys with heads down be­cause we be­lieved we could win, we be­lieved we could be in the fi­nal right now, and we’re not.”

The Crew with­stood a knock­out round in At­lanta, a fren­zied sec­ond leg at Yan­kee Sta­dium against New York City FC, and scores of ques­tions about pos­si­ble re­lo­ca­tion after next sea­son.

It worked through an­other 60 min­utes Wed­nes­day be­fore tak­ing a gut punch.

Alti­dore went down early in the sec­ond half with what ap­peared to be a right-an­kle in­jury, then sat on the turf a sec­ond and third time while train­ers taped his an­kle.

Alti­dore spent chunks of the sec­ond half limp­ing be­fore com­ing off in the 68th, but one well-timed burst of en­ergy de­cided the game in the 60th minute. Vic­tor Vazquez drew a cou­ple of de­fend­ers to­ward the top of the box and then toed a pass to Alti­dore, who sliced a right-footed shot be­tween de­fender Lalas Abubakar and goal­keeper Zack St­ef­fen to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.

“I think we lacked com­mu­ni­ca­tion in that mo­ment and (lost) our com­pact­ness a lit­tle bit,” said St­ef­fen, who made a save on a Vazquez penalty kick in the first half. “That’s what hap­pens in soc­cer.”

The Crew had a chance on a Justin Meram cross in the 87th that Adam Jahn nearly squared with a header and Ola Ka­mara nearly poked through with an ex­tended leg. Nei­ther move­ment played out on time.

“If my first touch is a half a yard bet­ter, if Adam gets more of his head — a half an inch — on the ball, (we score),” Meram said.

Alti­dore’s fi­nal blow came after a score­less first half in which the Crew stuck to its script, hold­ing Alti­dore and fel­low star for­ward Se­bas­tian Giovinco mostly in check.

A tight, de­fense­heavy con­fer­ence fi­nal was de­cided on the mar­gins in the sec­ond half.

“Inches, de­tails, that’s what it is,”

Zack St­ef­fen; Lalas Abubakar (Kekuta Man­neh, 73rd), Harrison Af­ful, Jonathan Men­sah, Josh Wil­liams; Mo­hammed Abu (Adam Jahn, 80th), Fed­erico Higuain, Wil Trapp; Ola Ka­mara, Justin Meram, Pe­dro San­tos (Hector Jimenez, 85th). Alex Bono; Steven Beitashour, Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor, Justin Mor­row, Eriq Zavaleta (Marky Del­gado, 46th); Michael Bradley, Jonathan Oso­rio (Nick Hag­glund, 81st), Vic­tor Vazquez; Jozy Alti­dore (Ar­mando Cooper, 68th), Se­bas­tian Giovinco.

“I think at the end of the day, there’s a cou­ple chances for them, a cou­ple chances for us, and they were able to put one in, and we weren’t.”

—Crew SC coach Gregg Ber­hal­ter

de­fender Josh Wil­liams said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.