Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ethan Finlay is a man in form.
The second-year midfielder came on for the Columbus Crew in the second half with his team down a goal and answered his coach’s call, scoring an 88th minute goal to save a point for the Crew in a 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake at Crew Stadium. The goal was Finlay’s third in the team’s last four games.
“You end up being really proud of them on how they fought back and how they were really determined to get something out of the game, but the other side is that we were in that position in the first place,” Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said following the match. “We were on the sideline celebrating a tying goal when we should have been in a different position.
“In one way the effort the guys put in was exceptional to get back into the game and they kept going. I’m a little bit disappointed with the urgency in the first half. We were playing at home and we really wanted to stampede our game on the opponent and really take it to them and we missed that. I thought it was better in the second half.”
Luis Gil scored the lone goal for RSL as they earned their seventh draw of the season.
The night didn’t start out very well for the Crew however. Despite earning an 11th minute penalty kick, playmaker Federico Higuain uncharacteristically put his penalty kick attempt well over the bar. A drab first half ended with Higuain grabbing at his right hamstring and needing to be taken out for midfielder Ben Speas.
“I didn’t see what happened,” Berhalter said about Higuain’s injury. “He made a through run and came up holding his hamstring and had to take him out. I would expect him to be out on Saturday. If it wasn’t serious there’s no way we would get him off that field.”
Following the scoreless first half, the Crew picked up their energy and came out with more momentum in the second half, making more overlapping runs down the wings and looking more threatening. However, ten minutes into the half, RSL wrested control of the game back.
RSL earned a free kick and then two corner kicks in a row. Off the second in the 56th minute, left back Abdoulie Mansally fired a low drive from 30-yards out that forced Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark to dive to his left. Clark could only parry the shot towards a grouping of RSL players in the box.
Gil was the quickest to react and he sent a quick shot off the far post and in to give the visitors the lead.
“(I was) being patient, good strike by Abdoulie, and I just pounced on it,” Gil said. “I had some patience and just saw it coming. You sniff those out, you want those. We had guys up there, either me, Javier (Morales), or other guys to make that play.”
In response to the goal, Berhalter went quickly to his bench and brought on hulking forward Adam Bedell and soon after sent on Finlay, who had a big game in the team’s last home game against Chicago.
While the Crew created chance after chance, they couldn’t seen to get one past RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who produced a number of great saves to keep the clean sheet.
Just seconds before exiting in the 77th minute, Crew winger Hector Jimenez fired a volley that was acrobatically turned around the far post. Two minutes later, Justin Meram curled an effort and forced another last-ditch punch away. In the 87th minute, Attinella somehow pushed away a shot from inside the six-yard box by substitute Adam Bedell.
“Jeff (Attinella) was incredible,” former Crew defender Rich Balchan said. “I remember Justin Meram had a nice bending shot to the back post. It was one of those things where it almost seemed like it was in slow motion. I saw him get it with his left paw. It was just incredible. I have so much respect for him. He has been making big saves and stuff and stepping up every time he has been called on. I’m so happy for him and everyone involved.”
In the 88th minute, Speas sent a beautiful ball along the ground for Finlay to run on to. One-on-one with Attinella, Finlay calmly chipped the ball up over Attinella and tied the score at 1-1.
“I have been working on that movement a lot,” Finlay said, “and I saw that he wasn’t really looking, he kind of had his body toward the ball. Ben (Speas) got the ball, picked his head up. He has been playing fantastic. He played a great ball and Attinella kind of came up pretty quick. I just thought I’ve seen people do it many times, let me give it a shot.”
Even though they didn’t come out with all three points, RSL head coach Jeff Cassar was more than pleased with getting a point on the road, especially in the wet weather conditions.
“I think at the end of the day we are going to leave here feeling fine with a point,” Cassar said. “We could have had three. Our goalkeeper played fantastic, so it was probably the correct result at the end of the day. If we could do a better job in the last five minutes of games we would have a much better record.”