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Crew, Reds play to second draw of season
May 3, 2009, 9:58 AM
Filed under: Columbus Crew, Toronto FC

A 64th-minute goal from Chad Barrett earned Toronto FC a point in a hard-fought 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew on Saturday at BMO Field.

Emmanuel Ekpo gave the Crew the lead 10 minutes earlier, capping a slaloming dribbling run through the TFC defense with a cool finish. But Barrett’s header off of a tremendous cross from Sam Cronin drew the Reds level, despite being outshot 17-5 by a game Columbus side.

The result extends two winless streaks — the Crew are still looking for their first win of the season (0-2-5), while Toronto is now 0-4-4 all-time against their Trillium Cup rivals. The teams also played to a 1-1 draw on March 28 in Columbus.

Toronto FC stayed with the same 4-3-3 alignment and starting XI that brought them victory in their last two games. For the Crew, two changes were made to the side that tied the Chicago Fire last Saturday. Robbie Rogers replaced the injured Adam Moffat in midfield, while defender Jed Zayner filled in for Gino Padula, who was serving a one-game suspension following a red card in the Chicago match.

Almost as if on cue with the opening whistle, a strong wind and driving rain blew in, leading to some wild passes in the opening minutes as the two teams adjusted to the suddenly wet conditions. Columbus defender Eric Brunner slipped on the wet turf while trying to clear the ball, leading to a turnover to Toronto’s Carl Robinson. The midfielder himself had trouble finding his footing, and could only manage a weak attempt at the Crew goal.

Columbus had the advantage over the first 15 minutes, keeping the ball in the TFC end and earning three corner kicks. Guillermo Barros Schelotto notched the Crew’s first shot on goal (a fairly harmless test of Reds goalkeeper Stefan Frei), but also picked up a caution after a reckless foul on TFC striker Pablo Vitti.

As the weather improved, so did TFC’s attack. In the 20th minute, Barrett accepted a long pass just on the edge of the Crew penalty area. Barrett was closely marked by defender Danny O’Rourke, but managed to create enough room for himself to thread a pass through the middle towards a charging Vitti. The pass was just a step or two beyond Vitti’s reach, however, and goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum fell on the ball to end the threat.

This near-miss, however, was virtually the only offensive chance created by the Reds over the first 40 minutes. It took 35 minutes just for TFC to record their first shot, a wide attempt from Vitti. It was a disappointing start for a side that had looked so strong on attack in its last two games, and entered the match fourth in the league in shots taken (75).

The Crew outshot the Reds by an 11-2 margin in the first half, but couldn’t convert the advantage into a goal. In the 39th minute, midfielder Eddie Gaven made some nice moves to control a bouncing ball and move down the center of the TFC penalty area. He dropped a pass off to Schelotto, but the shot from the reigning MLS Most Valuable Player sailed over the net.

A couple of minutes later, midfielder Robbie Rogers had an even more promising attempt off of a Schelotto free kick. Frei got caught up in a crowd trying to jump and grab the ball, and the ball deflected to Rogers in front of the net. The attempt was also off-target, as Rogers sent a partially deflected shot over the crossbar.

Dwayne De Rosario, who had missed TFC’s previous two games with a hamstring injury, came into the match at halftime as a substitution for striker Danny Dichio.

In the 54th minute, Columbus finally broke through. Ekpo knocked down a bouncing ball and ran down the center of the field, took advantage of a turned-around Jim Brennan and then ran between Brennan and Velez. Frei was drawn out of the goal to challenge, and Ekpo rounded the goalkeeper to his left before putting the ball into the net to give the Crew a 1-0 lead.

It was the first goal of the season for the second-year Nigerian, and his first since last July 5 against Chicago. Ekpo’s goal ended an impressive shutout streak from Frei, who had kept a clean sheet for his previous 240 minutes.

The key to the Crew’s early-season struggles has been their inability to hold a lead, however, and it struck again just 10 minutes later. TFC rookie midfielder Cronin took a pass from Amado Guevara and made a great run down the left side, evading a defender and sending a fantastic cross to Barrett just in front of the goal area. The Reds striker made no mistake with a header that found the back to the net for his second goal of the year and put Toronto back level.

In the ensuing minutes, both teams had a quality chance at the go-ahead goal. Gaven’s header on the right side of the TFC net required a point-blank save from Frei. In the 72nd minute, Marvell Wynne won a tough battle for the ball down the right side with Crew midfielder Brian Carroll and crossed to a charging De Rosario, whose attempt went high.

Though Frei lost his shutout streak earlier in the game, the Toronto ‘keeper was once again in good form on the day, and faced with his toughest challenge in the 78th minute. Defender Adrian Serioux took a bad touch of a back pass, and sent the ball directly to a wide-open Pat Noonan. In a one-on-one situation, Frei was able to get a leg on the ball before Noonan could properly square and shoot, and the attempt was deflected out of bounds.

The last major chance of the game came on a De Rosario direct free kick in the 86th minute. De Rosario’s shot was well struck and evaded the Columbus wall, but it went just a few feet wide of the net.

TFC next plays on Wednesday, hosting the USL-1 Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the opening match of the 2009 Nutrilite Canadian Championship. The Reds’ next league game is on Sat., May 9 in Washington against Eastern Conference rivals D.C. United. As for Columbus, they head back to Crew Stadium to face off against the Kansas City Wizards next Saturday.

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