COLUMBUS CREW

Columbus Crew concede another last-minute goal, tie Portland Timbers 1-1

Bailey Johnson
The Columbus Dispatch
Sep 18, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Portland Timbers midfielder Santiago Moreno (30) scores a goal in the final minute of stoppage time against the Columbus Crew during the second half of the MLS game at Lower.com Field. The Crew and Timbers tied 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

They were less than a minute away from a win.

After Kevin Molino gave the Columbus Crew a 1-0 lead against the Portland Timbers in the 37th minute on Sunday, the Crew clung to that lead all the way until stoppage time at the end of the second half. But in the 95th minute, almost exactly at the end of the four added minutes, Santiago Moreno's shot sailed just past the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Eloy Room to tie the game.

Less than a minute later, as boos rang out from the sellout crowd of 20,421 at Lower.com Field, referee Victor Rivas blew the full-time whistle. Several Crew players and coach Caleb Porter discussed the result with Rivas at midfield, but it was too late to change the outcome. Another late goal conceded, and the Crew were forced into a 1-1 tie against Portland.

Porter and his players were frustrated by both the extension of the stoppage time — four minutes were added and the tying goal was scored in the fifth minute — and what they thought was a missed foul immediately before Moreno's goal, but they were clear that neither gripe makes up for not clearing the ball before Moreno could take a shot.

"I think it’s happened one too many times this year where, (after) 90-plus minutes, we conceded a goal," center back Miloš Degenek said. "... If you’ve made your mind up to play four, you play four. You don’t play five. But it is what it is. That’s football and I guess we deal with it. That’s not me having a whinge or a sulk or trying to find an excuse. We need to be better as a team. As a collective, we need to be better in the last 10 minutes of the game and we need to find a way to see the games out."

Sep 18, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew head coach Caleb Porter, along with midfielder Lucas Zelarayan (10), midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) and defender Milos Degenek (5) argue with referee Victor Rivas following the MLS game at Lower.com Field. The Timbers scored a goal in stoppage time to tie 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

After both Orlando City and FC Cincinnati won their games Saturday, the two teams immediately ahead of the Crew in the standings, the Crew needed to win against Portland to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. And after Columbus was unable to close out its last two games in Montreal and in Miami, Porter emphasized the importance of turning in a complete performance against the Timbers.

They almost accomplished both goals. But as has been a theme far too often for Columbus this year, conceding a late goal left them once again searching for answers. The Crew (9-7-15) added another draw to their tally, an MLS-leading 15. Columbus now sits on 42 points with three games left.

"It felt to me like we were gonna close this game out," Porter said. "No problem. Even until the last 15 seconds. But again, it’s little things. It’s simple. Clear the ball in the stands. If we clear that ball out on the last action, the game’s over."

Molino opened the scoring in the 37th minute with a nearly effortless finish as he ran unmarked through the left side of the box. The sequence began with Cucho Hernandez switching the ball across the field to Pedro Santos, who found Lucas Zelarayan just inside the 18-yard box.

Zelarayan quickly tapped a short pass to Kevin Molino as he streaked through the left side of the box, confusing Portland's defense. All Molino had to do was beat goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic, and he didn't hesitate to do so. Molino's in-stride strike sailed past Ivacic into the far corner of the net. It was Molino's first MLS goal in over a year, and the celebration from the Trinidadian winger and his teammates drove home the meaning of the goal, both for Molino and the Crew.

Sep 18, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayan (10) hugs midfielder Kevin Molino (13) after he scored his first goal in over a year during the first half of the MLS game at Lower.com Field. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

"That’ll be lost in the shuffle today, but I thought (Molino) had an excellent game and performance," Porter said. "And the whole team, in a difficult game. That’s a tough game. That’s a really talented team, very athletic. They’ve come on the road this year in difficult environments and gotten results. I honestly thought we executed extremely well. I didn’t think this would be like 2-0 or 3-0 win. I thought it would be one or two. We kept the game tight. It’s just again, closing out the game."

The Timbers (11-9-12) put heavy pressure on Columbus in the second half as they sought an equalizer, but goalkeeper Eloy Room kept them off the scoresheet until the final minute. Portland was only credited with three shots on target, but it was the final shot that proved too much for the Crew to stop.

For the third time in three games, the Crew couldn’t prevent a goal in the final 15 minutes, and the goal came in stoppage time for the second time in three games. Once again, Columbus failed to close out a game, and with only three games left in the regular season, this trend may be the reason they miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.

"You do everything so well for 80, 90 minutes and then you concede a goal," Degenek said. "It’s very frustrating. It’s not something you want to keep doing week in and week out, but you can’t dwell on it now. It’s happened. It’s happened way too many times, but it has happened. We have to find a solution. We have to deal with it. We have to move on.

"We have to look to win the next three games to win, make the playoffs and then see how we go from there. ... I guess sometimes the results and faith and luck hasn’t come our way. It’s as if someone’s thrown a curse on us that we keep conceding goals, and stupid goals."

bjohnson@dispatch.com

@BaileyAJohnson_

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