Crew Crash Out; Face the Crossroads
So the champs are done after Real Salt Lake beat the Crew on Thursday. Everything that needed to happen did at first. Needing two goals to win the series, Guillermo Barros Schelotto scored both by the 35th minute. All that was needed was for the stalwart defense to hold up the potent Real Salt Lake offense. That was when things started to turn. The defense started to crack, RSL controlled the midfield, and Columbus gave up a two goal lead at home.
Early on, Schelotto willed the Crew to a two goal lead in the first half. The Crew defense had looked shaky and an RSL goal would have sealed the game before the game really got started. Schelotto sent in a dangerous ball for the first goal and Rimando somehow missed it, but it was the second goal that was reminiscent of classic Guille. Directing pressure to get the ball back, reading the defense and making a run, getting the ball from Ekpo, and finally creating his own shot. The game couldn’t have gone more to plan.
The offensive outburst masked the difficulty the Crew were having in midfield. Salt Lake had controlled possession and had a couple chances to open the scoring so it wasn’t surprising that they pulled a goal back quickly. Beckerman found space to lob a ball and Hejduk kept Morales onside and the aggregate was tied within 2 minutes of the Crew going ahead.
I think the Crew might have been able to hang on if they were able to get to halftime with the 2-1 game lead (2-2 on aggregate), but the penalty looked like it took the fight out of the team. I thought it was a penalty at the time and I still do after seeing the replays. It was a light call, but Hejduk was pulling the shirt and looked like they got their legs caught together. It was a gift that RSL took.
With a tie game (3-2 RSL lead on aggregate) at halftime, the Crew had squandered a great opportunity and it showed on the team’s faces and in their posture. They looked defeated. A long season and a lot of games in September and October had taken anything this team had left in reserve.
The third Salt Lake goal made the remaining 20 minutes a formality. It seemed like a microcosm of the last 2 months. Everyone flailing to hold on but ultimately falling short, unable to see, let alone stop the danger. The Crew can look to some questionable calls by Toledo, and he did have some, but this was a team that looked 2nd best on the night. Real Salt Lake came into Crew Stadium and beat the once invincible Crew team. The champs reign ended with a thud.
It was the perfect kickoff for an offseason filled with critical decisions. This certainly wasn’t the crowning achievements of 2008, but it wasn’t the dismal failures of 2005 through 2007. Now the team has missed out on some high expectations, there will be a lot of examination of how to move this team forward. Decisions will be made on older vets like Schelotto, Moreno, and Hejduk. The team will have to look for goal scorers. Even first year head coach Robert Warzycha’s performance is up for debate.