On Saturday the Crew squared off against Toronto FC, and the result was nothing short of spectacular.
Some are saying that Saturday's Real Salt Lake/FC Dallas game was the best of the year so far in MLS. I beg to differ (I am a little biased): The Crew and TFC went toe to toe and threw everything they had at each other—they would have thrown the kitchen sink but it was out injured—and took the game down to the wire.
No, really, it was decided in the 92nd minute. Feast your eyes on some highlights.
The game was monumental in many respects: The Crew were trying to hold onto the Trillium cup and break San Jose's 19-game home unbeaten streak. Toronto was trying to win its first game ever against Columbus and take home the Cup. Additionally, the winner would capture first place in the Eastern Conference. Needless to say there was a lot on the line.
It gives me great pleasure to report that Toronto has still never beat Columbus.
As wonderful as that is, and as great as it was to kiss the cup after the game when Frankie Hejduk held it up to us in the Nordecke, and as satisfying as it was to send both of the TFC fans home with another loss to Columbus, there was one thing that gave me more joy than all of that: a full 93 minutes of Crew soccer.
This was the first game all year in which everything clicked for the entire game. The Crew put together a truly complete game, playing both ends of the field, following every ball, not giving up, and working their tails off to get the win.
Columbus opened the scoring in the 32nd minute when hometown heartthrob Danny O'Rourke dribbled his way into the Toronto box and found Eddie Gaven for a goal. Toronto answered just three minutes later when Dwayne De Rosario cleaned up some garbage for his seventh goal of the year.
Then, just as we were returning to our seats from half-time, Toronto pulled ahead via the foot of rookie Ali Gerba. Gerba should send a thank you note to Crew defender Andy Iro, who practically passed him the ball and then watched as the goal was scored.
As we fans fell silent, stunned, we were all thinking the same thing: "I can play defense better than Andy Iro." The guy is big, sure, but he's also slow and is about a second behind with his decisions. And, at this level, one second is long enough to give up a goal. Thank God Chad Marshall is coming back from national team duty this week.
But if Andy wants to keep playing on Saturdays, my rec league team needs a center back. We play at two o'clock in Dublin and I think we have a couple of jerseys left.
Steven Lenhart made up for Andy's mental lapse and tied it at two in the 76th minute with a scrappy goal that made the Toronto back line look like they're the ones who need to join a rec league.
However, a tie would not be good enough this time (when is it really? No one likes to kiss their sister). If the game were to end in a tie, Toronto would clinch the Trillium Cup, based on fouls against of all things, and neither team would advance in the standings. Sure, Columbus would still break the home undefeated record, but we wanted it all. Besides, we've had enough ties this year, we want wins.
Emmanuel Ekpo, who subbed in for Duncan Oughton in the 64th, did everything he could to put the ball in net, but to no avail. Adam Moffat, our Scottish savior, came in for Gino Padula in the 73rd and made a huge impact as a third striker. It scared the crap out of us fans to only have two guys playing defense, but what do we know?
As the clock neared 90, we all had a sinking feeling that it would end all square and Toronto would take the Cup for the first time in their (short) history. But the Dude always abides.
In the 92nd minute, our California surfer dude Frankie Hejduk, took a pass from Brian Carrol at a dead sprint and willed the ball onto the head of the other Bash Brother Jason Garey who placed it securely in the back of the net.
Game over. 3-2 to the Crew. Thanks for coming, folks.
The only thing I remember after Jason's ball found the net is thinking that I was going to die at the bottom of the dog-pile that had formed in the front row of the stands. I think there were a thousand people on top of me, all screaming and yelling and hugging each other. Did you know it's nearly impossible to high-five from a prone position? Well it is.
If last week's win was a miracle, this was like Christ rising from the dead. We went absolutely mental.
And so it ended, this Battle Royale. Our foes from the great white north traveled home empty handed, again, and we celebrated long after the stands cleared. I wasn't kidding, by the way, I really did kiss the Cup. Not as cool as holding the MLS Cup, but still, pretty stellar.
Later that night the win got a little sweeter when, as though they weren't mad we broke their record, San Jose came back to tie DC United, giving the Crew sole possession of first place in the East. Thanks a lot 'Quakes, that was real swell of ya.
The Crew heads off to Denver this week to face the Colorado Rapids. If we win that game, and Houston loses or ties against DC United, Columbus will regain their rightful place in the world: first place in the league.