With an opportunity for the Columbus Crew to stake an outsider’s claim to the Supporters Shield, and solidify their grasp of the Eastern Conference title, the team instead suffered its worst defeat of the season, falling behind by three goals in the first quarter of the game and stumbling to a 6-2 defeat to the Seattle Sounders. Seattle winger Lamar Neagle started the scoring in just the fourth minute, ending the game with the Sounders’ second hat trick in team history.
[EDIT: Neagle’s hat trick was not the first in team history, it was the second. Blaise Nkufo scored the first, also against the Crew, last year]
For the Crew, bright spots were few and far between. Veteran forward Jeff Cunningham scored the 134th goal of his career in the second half, giving him sole possession of the league’s all-time scoring title. A small moral victory might be found in the return to action of Rich Balchan, who stepped in to the center of the back line in place of the suspended Julius James. This was a far cry from the confident Balchan who so impressed observers at the beginning of the season, however, and the absence of James was keenly felt.
Columbus found themselves in a hole almost from the beginning of the game, conceding the first goal in the fourth minute. Lamar Neagle took a throw-in on the Crew’s right flank and ran quickly to receive a return header from Mike Fucito. Neagle’s run took him just to the inside of Balchan, who was unable to catch up as Neagle gained the penalty area. With Chad Marshall slow to slide over and close down the attack, Neagle curled a right-footed shot toward the far post that Hesmer was able to palm away, but not far enough – the spinning ball bit on the artificial turf and rolled inside the far post.
Just over ten minutes later the Crew’s afternoon got considerably worse when Rich Balchan was whistled for handling the ball in the penalty area. The rookie got caught with his hands up around his chest as the ball was chipped into him, and ended up swatting at the ball as he tried to drop his hands to his sides. Mauro Rosales converted the ensuing penalty kick, striking the ball hard to Hesmer’s right to bury it in the side netting.
In the 21st minute, the game was effectively ended with Seattle’s third goal. A stoic Columbus defense was pulled out of position and then caught napping, first by a pass from Rosales into the left side of the defense, pulling Chad Marshall and Rich Balchan over to deal with the threat. James Riley ran onto the ball, catching up with it on the end line and chipping a cross over the Crew defenders and picking out an unmarked Lamar Neagle near the back post. With no defender in range, and Sebastian Miranda having shifted to the center to provide coverage in front of goal, Neagle had only to shoot low to the near post to avoid Hesmer’s desperation lunge to put the game out of reach.
While there was still a great deal of soccer to be played, the Sounders were able to comfortably see out the rest of the game. Mike Fucito pounced for Seattle’s fourth goal just before halftime, ghosting in between Chad Marshall and William Hesmer to toe-poke the ball around the goalkeeper and fire home from a tight angle.
Columbus pulled goals back twice in the second half as the team made significant changes to the attacking corps. Jeff Cunningham and Tommy Heinemann were sent on in the 56th minute, which allowed the lone bright spot from a Crew perspective. Emilio Renteria was brought down in the penalty area during a Columbus foray in the 59th minute, setting up a penalty kick. This time, there was no drama as Cunningham stepped to the spot and calmly sent Kasey Keller the wrong way to make the score 4-1. With the goal, Cunningham became the league’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing the mark of 133 goals set by DC United’s Jaime Moreno.
Seattle restore the two-goal advantage in the 70th minute with a long-range blast from Neagle, completing his hat trick. The winger levelled a blast from outside the penalty area toward the right flank, which ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar and down, crossing the goal line by a foot.
Columbus left back Josh Gardner finished the scoring with two goals barely a minute apart, at either end of the field. In the 73rd minute, he sent a well-taken free kick through a gap in the defensive wall, tucking the shot just under the crossbar and inches beyond Keller’s grasp to make the score 5-2. Barely a minute later, however, he was forced into mis-playing a cross from the right flank in his own penalty area, directing the ball past Hesmer and into his own goal to produce the final score.
Trivia: Goal and Own Goal
Gardner’s feat was not the first time a Crew player has scored for both teams. Brian Maisonneuve was similarly involved in an Open Cup game on August 6th, 2003. After scoring an own goal in the 24th minute to hand New York their first goal of the game, he restored the Crew’s 2-goal lead with a strike of his own in the 42nd minute to make the score 3-1. Columbus woud go on to lose the game 4-3 on second half goals from Steve Jolley and two from Eddie Pope.
What It Means
This game will be memorable for many years, for both good and bad reasons – although the short term implications may be hardest to divine. The loss eats away most of the Crew’s cushion atop the Eastern Conference, leaving Columbus – depending on results elsewhere this weekend – with potentially a one-point lead in the chase for the conference title. Coming against a team over whom it would have to leap to make a push for the Supporters Shield, the loss deals a savage blow to the team’s hopes of an improbable run for the best regular season record.
While the implications for the team may not be known until the end of the season, it may be individual performances that endure the longest. Jeff Cunningham has wrested the title of All-Time Scoring Leader away from Jaime Moreno – fittingly on a penalty kick. The veteran has now scored 134 goals in league play, one more than the long-time DC United player. Rich Balchan made his return from injury, logging his first minutes since early July. Josh Gardner scored the team’s second goal from a set piece this season.
In terms of history, the team’s six goals conceded ties the club record, which has only happened twice before. The first came in the team’s inaugural season, on May 2nd, 1996: a 6-4 loss in Kansas City. More recently, Columbus was thumped 6-0 in the away leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup on April 16, 2003 by Mexico’s Monarcas Morelia. The league record for most goals in a game is eight, set by Los Angeles in an 8-1 thrashing of the Dallas Burn in 1998.
Other Match Reports
- Prost Amerika: The Joy of Six
- Sounder at Heart: Lamar Neagle is Pretty Good
Timeline of Events
4′ 0-1 Lamar Neagle (Mike Fucito)
16′ 0-2 Mauro Rosales (penalty)
21′ 0-3 Lamar Neagle (James Riley, Mauro Rosales)
40′ 0-4 Mike Fucito (Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero)
56′ Jeff Cunningham replaces Dilly Duka
56′ Tommy Heinemann replaces Andres Mendoza
59′ 1-4 Jeff Cunningham (penalty)
64′ Caution, Kevin Burns (Tactical Foul)
70′ 1-5 Lamar Neagle (Osvaldo Alonso)
71′ Alvaro Fernandez replaces Mauro Rosales
73′ Caution, Jeff Parke (Reckless Foul)
73′ 2-5 Josh Gardner (unassisted)
74′ 2-6 own goal (Josh Gardner)
75′ Zach Scott replaces Jeff Parke
76′ Justin Meram replaces Emilio Renteria
78′ Nate Jaqua replaces Mike Fucito
81′ Caution, Zach Scott (Reckless Tackle)
William Hesmer, Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Rich Balchan, Josh Gardner, Kevin Burns, Dilly Duka (Jeff Cunningham 56′), Emmanuel Ekpo, Robbie Rogers, Emilio Renteria (Justin Meram 76′), Andres Mendoza (Tommy Heinemann 56′)
Alex Riggs, Eric Gehrig, Danny O’Rourke, Bernardo Anor
Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke (Zach Scott 75′), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Tyson Wahl, Erik Friberg, Mauro Rosales (Alvaro Fernandez 71′), Osvaldo Alonso, Lamar Neagle, Mike Fucito (Nate Jaqua 78′), Fredy Montero
Terry Boss, Servando Carrasco, Roger Levesque, Brad Evans
Columbus will have to wait two weeks until their next game, at home to Toronto FC in the second leg of the Trillium Cup. Three of their next four games will be at Crew Stadium, with games coming against Houston (September 14th) and Los Angeles (September 24th) surrounding a trip to Philadelphia (September 17th). Following that stretch, the tables will reverse with three of the team’s final four games coming away from home.
Seattle’s schedule is significantly more congested, starting with an Open Cup semifinal against FC Dallas on Tuesday. They will then have a slightly shorter break, resuming play on September 10th with a home match against Real Salt Lake.