|photo by Matt Kremkau
Two late goals by Derrick Etienne Jr. sank his former team but may have saved his current one as the Columbus Crew downed the Red Bulls, 2-1.
The Red Bulls had already clinched their spot for the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs before the international break. The only thing left for Gerhard Struber and his team to do in the regular season is to secure a home-field game for the first round at Red Bull Arena. Standing directly in their way, however, is Caleb Porter and a very determined Columbus Crew side on the outside looking in, which is unbeaten in five matches.
While Struber was without the services of Zach Ryan, Serge Ngoma, Drew Yearwood, Cristian Casseres Jr., Aaron Long, and Cameron Harper due to various injuries and suspensions. In the case of Long, he's being rested after his stint playing a couple of friendlies with the U.S. National Team, preparing themselves for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Meanwhile, Porter was without defender Johnathan Mensah, still nursing a leg injury, Lucas Zelarayan, still on the bench after a long flight from his stint with his national team, and forward Cucho Hernandez, suspended for a homophobic slur he hurled at a Portland Timbers player last month.
The Red Bulls nearly had a chance to get on the scoreboard in the 17th minute when midfielder Daniel Edelman took a shot deep from outside the box, but as it skipped through a bunch of players, it hit the post, to the relief of the home supporters.
But in the 44th minute, defender Andres Reyes got free from the scrum and headed the ball down toward the net, but goalkeeper Eloy Room, who didn't have much to do in the entire half, was there to make the timely save.
Red Bulls had one last chance before the first half elapsed when Lewis Morgan won a free kick on the left side of the pitch. After the ball was served into the box, Reyes was involved again, as he and Room slammed into each other as the half ended with both teams scoreless.
The Red Bulls broke through in the second half as Forward Elias Manoel tried to get through the Columbus defense but was denied. Steven Moreira tried to clear the ball, but it went right to an unmarked Frankie Amaya, and he wasted no time scoring his first goal of the season in the 53rd minute, stunning the sellout crowd in the process.
The Crew had a terrific chance to equalize the match in the 81st minute, as Mohamed Farsi but former Red Bull midfielder Derrick Etienne Jr. skied his shot into the seats.
But then, just seven minutes later, the tide began to turn for the home side, as the New York defense was essentially picked part by Columbus' crisp passing up the field until Mohamed Farsi found Etienne, who then poked home the equalizer.
However, the Patterson, NJ native wasn't done with his former team when just 3 minutes into stoppage time, he picked up the loose ball after Coronel saved Jacen Russell-Rowe's initial shot and cooly buried the ball into the back of the net, putting his team in the lead for good, and sending the sellout crowd into an abject delirium.
As the final whistle blew, it was a demoralizing defeat for a team looking to end the season on a high note but still searching for answers as Decision Day comes next week.
THE BIG PICTURE:
Once again, this team finds itself looking for answers after a loss where stupid mental mistakes can cause a team to wind up in the loss column. For a young team such as this, mistakes can make the difference between a team taking the next step in their evolution or painfully set them back, frustrating their ardent supporters. The latter openly wonders why other teams seem to accomplish this task seemingly without any issue, to prepare them for a long run for the chase for the MLS Cup.
They say in the playoffs, mistakes are magnified, and they can become fatal for any team. If this team cannot learn from them in concise order, it may find itself on the outside looking in as yet another team captures championship glory, and they will have to resort to starting over again.