No question the Columbus Crew needed to win Saturday’s match more than the Fire did — and it certainly showed.
The Crew (11-14-5) kept their slim playoff hopes alive in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference with a resounding 3-0 victory before a home crowd of 19,010 while the Fire (11-12-6) is on the outside looking in again as far as postseason play is concerned.
Not much good can be said about the Fire in this one. Dominic Oduro, the ex-Fire striker who was traded to Columbus in February, scored the only goal the Crew needed just 15 minutes into the match. It came on the type of shot that goalkeeper Sean Johnson has stopped many times in the past.
Then the Fire was relegated to playing most of the match a man down following defender Bakary Soumare’s red card ejection in the 29th minute for a tackle on Crew forward Jairo Arrieta. Soumare’s departure hurt the Fire the rest of the way in Columbus, and he won’t be on the pitch for Saturday’s home match against the Montreal Impact either.
The Fire, a dismal 2-8-4 in MLS road games with only 10 goals to show for those 14 matches, hung in there on Saturday until Federico Higuain’s penalty kick in the 70th minute. Playing a man down for 61 minutes, the Fire came close to scoring twice — Juan Luis Anangono’s header off the crossbar in the 37th minute and Chris Rolfe’s deflected shot off the post in the 79th — but the Crew had turned the match into a route when Bernardo Anor’s goal made it 3-0 just before Rolfe’s near miss.
Dilly Duka, the midfielder traded by Columbus to acquire Oduro, was on the winning side in the first three meetings of the clubs this season but not in the fourth.
"You can’t win them all. This is MLS," said Duka. "They scored an early goal, they played well and we were a little unlucky. I thought I was fouled in the first 25 minutes in the box. I clearly got pushed. The guy didn’t even touch the ball, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Can’t look back. You’ve got to look forward."
That’s imperative, of course.
In the next round of league games — in addition to Montreal at Fire — the Philadelphia Union goes to Sporting Kansas City on Friday, Houston is at New England on Saturday and Columbus is at FC Dallas on Sunday. Philadelphia was idle last week while New England took a 2-1 win over D.C. United and Houston rolled 5-1 over Chivas USA.
The Dynamo is now sitting pretty in fourth place with 43 points in 29 matches and three of the remaining five at home. The battle for the last playoff spot, however, couldn’t be much tighter. New England has the fifth, and last, playoff berth at the moment with 40 points in 29 matches but the Revolution must hold off three clubs down the stretch.
Back in the No. 6 spot, the Fire has 39 points in 29 matches. So does Philadelphia, but the Fire owns the tiebreaker on the Union. Columbus, at No. 8, is just one standings points behind the Fire and Union but has only four matches left to make up the difference. The Fire and Union have five games remaining.
The Fire plays at Toyota Park only two more times in the regular season — on Saturday and on Oct. 19 vs. Toronto FC. Road matches are at D.C. United on Oct. 4, FC Dallas on Oct. 12 and New York on Oct. 27.
Saturday’s loss ended the Fire’s five-match winning streak against the Crew, and it included two wins in MLS play and another in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals this season. The rivalry between the Fire and Crew is one of the most intense in MLS, but the Fire still has a 24-13-13 edge.