Beat the machine? Not quite, but close
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.