Crew: Cup run is over

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The door slammed shut on the Open Cup Tuesday night.

The Crew must have been sleepless in their Seattle hotel beds after squandering their best chance at a trophy in 2010. Playing in their third Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final, they took a 1-0 lead over the Seattle Sounders on Kevin Burns' first Crew goal before falling 2-1 on a pair of Sanna Nyassi strikes.

The Open Cup, renamed to honor Crew founder Lamar Hunt in 1999, is America's oldest team sports tournament, crowning a champion for 97 consecutive years. Columbus participates annually; they lost to Chicago in the 1998 final and defeated Los Angeles in 2002 to claim the Crew's first trophy in club history.

The Black and Gold has racked up plenty of hardware since then, winning the Supporters Shield for the league's best record in 2004, 2008 and 2009, and conquering MLS Cup in 2008. But with another Shield mathematically impossible now and MLS Cup prospects looking bleaker in light of the Crew's recent poor form, Tuesday's trip to Seattle suddenly seemed very important - a beacon for a sinking ship of a 2010 season.

The task was tough, to be sure. Columbus faced the Sounders, the only MLS team they've never beaten, led by former Crew Coach Sigi Schmid. They played on the unfriendly plastic turf of Qwest Field in front of an Open Cup record 31,311 Seattle partisans.

Yet the Crew seemed up to it at first, snatching the lead when Burns finished a neat series of passes in the 24th minute. They played with electricity, matching Seattle's intensity and looking more empowered than the squad that lost 4-0 to the Sounders on Sept. 18.

Then came the mistakes.

Nyassi twice capitalized on chaos in front of the Columbus goalmouth, collecting a rebounded shot and depositing it unchallenged in the 38th minute, then heading home a loose aerial ball in the 66th.

After falling behind, Columbus seemed to lack urgency, even as regulation crept into stoppage time. Even Emilio Renteria got muscled off the ball. The match was a microcosm of the season so far, beginning with plenty of promise before devolving into frustration.

If there's one glimmer of hope, it's that Real Salt Lake's run to MLS Cup last year proves any club can tear through the playoffs if they get hot at the right time. The question is how to spontaneously combust.

Columbus Crew at Chicago Fire

9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8