COLUMBUS -- After six games without a win, Columbus Crew SC thought they were finally ending their drought on Saturday nigh. They led DC United heading into the final 16 minutes of the match, and had held the visitors mostly at bay.
But a controversial red card sent defender Harrison Afful off the field in the 74th minute, and D.C. United found their equalizer through Fabian Espindola a minute before the end of regulation in a 1-1 draw at MAPFRE Stadium. Espindola's strike marked the 11th goal allowed by Columbus in the final 15 minutes of matches this season, leaving the club to wonder when its luck will turn around.
“You would hope the law of averages would come into effect at some point, but it’s just disappointing,” midfielder Wil Trapp said. “I think we did enough to win the game and one call changes the complexion of it and you just have to adjust. At the end of the day, it was an unfortunate bounce for us and they finished.”
Referee Silviu Petrescu said after the match that he saw “serious foul play” in Afful’s sliding challenge on Marcelo Sarvas. He said he had not had time to review the play, and said he didn’t see what appeared to be Sarvas stepping on Afful after the challenge.
After the match, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter was diplomatic but clear about his opinion of the play.
“I’m not going to comment on it. I’m not going to fall into that trap,” Berhalter said. “I saw the play and I feel a certain way about it, but I’m going to keep that private.”
Forward Ola Kamara was nearby when the challenge happened, and said he could not believe the call.
“I can’t see that there’s any pace on [the challenge] or anything,” said Kamara, who scored the game's opener in the 63rd minute off a low cross from Afful. “I can’t understand that decision.”
Berhalter admitted it was “tough” after the red card disrupted the game, but didn’t want to make excuses for another blown lead.
“We’re not happy, we’re disappointed,” Berhalter said. “The effort the guys put in was enough to win that game, and as we were defending with 10 men, I still felt comfortable. I felt like we were going to be able to get it done.
"It’s too bad the game was changed with that moment, but it was, so we have to deal with it. I thought we dealt with it pretty well. On one occasion we didn’t, and we paid for it.”
Thanks to a Chicago Fire loss to FC Dallas later on Saturday night, Columbus are still one point ahead of the basement in the Eastern Conference. While Crew SC are still well outside the playoff race, players haven’t lost hope.
“We’re on the end of some bad bounces and some bad red cards…but we’ve got a lot of character in this room,” said goalkeeper Steve Clark.