Amid uncertainty around club, Crew's season ends at hands of Toronto FC - InfoNews

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Amid uncertainty around club, Crew's season ends at hands of Toronto FC

Columbus Crew midfielder Will Trapp (20) consoles forward Justin Meram (9) at the final whistle as Toronto FC wins the MLS Eastern Conference final 1-0 to progress to the MLS Cup final in Toronto on Wednesday, November 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
November 29, 2017 - 9:23 PM

TORONTO - Under the cloud of uncertainty that has hung over their club, the Columbus Crew never stopped believing.

And when their season came to a heartbreaking ending Wednesday, just one goal shy of the MLS Cup final, the players walked to the section of BMO Field to applaud their fans who'd made the long trip to Toronto.

"It was sad," said goalkeeper Zack Steffen. "We all believed that we were going to bring it back to Columbus, and we felt we deserved it. And I know the fans are disappointed like we are, so it's a tough pill to swallow."

Jozy Altidore scored in the 60th minute to lift Toronto FC over Columbus in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final. It was the only goal of a tightly-knotted two-game series.

"The one big moment, or the one little slip-up they took advantage of, and give them credit for it," said Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter. "It's about the small moments. . . and we knew the Eastern Conference final would come down to something like that."

The Crew's future is murky, with ownership talking about an impending move to Austin, Texas. The team could have collapsed under all the outside chatter, but Berhalter said the controversy galvanized his squad.

"We've been talking about this, we were focused on what was happening on the field rather than what was happening off the field, even though it was a surprise to a lot of people, and even though it was a huge reaction from the public," he said. "Because we were playing well, we were able to weather that."

Columbus was red-hot down the stretch, reeling off a 10-game unbeaten run to end the regular season. They'd lost just once — 2-0 to New York City FC in the playoffs — since Aug. 5.

"It was funny, all the outside stuff, it could have went either way, we could have let that distract us, but I thought that brought us closer together, and it wasn't easy," said defender Josh Williams, who played two seasons with Toronto. "It wasn't easy dealing with all of that so for all of us to hear that — and we heard it every day — for all of us to put that to the side and come together and bond together and keep pushing the limits. . .

"I guarantee at the beginning of the year if you'd heard 'Columbus is going to be one of the last four playing, and push Toronto the limit,' I guarantee nobody would have believed that."

The Crew, which ranked just 20th in the league in attendance this season, said it will play the 2018 season at Mapfre Stadium and then move to Austin for 2019 unless there are plans for a permanent downtown stadium in Columbus.

Wednesday's game in front of 30,392 fans at BMO Field could have gone either way. Steffen had the travelling group of yellow-clad Columbus fans something to cheer for in the 26th minute when he stopped a penalty shot by Victor Vazquez.

It was the sixth he's stopped this season, out of 13 penalty kicks he's faced.

"We came out pretty hot, came out kind of flying, and it was a fun first 15, 20 minutes, with their fans and the way we were playing," Steffen said. "And then the PK also helped get us going."

After the Altidore goal, the Crew refused to let up, and in the 87th minute Ola Kamara came inches from tying it up, prompting gasps from the BMO Field crowd. Justin Meram's cross glanced off the head of Adam Jahn and squirted just under Kamara's outstretched foot.

"That's the game," said Meram, slouched back in his locker. "My first touch, if it was a half a yard better. If Adam gets more of his head, maybe half an inch more on the ball. This is sports, these are the moments, and we fell short."

The Crew's last goal was a stoppage-time strike Oct. 31 by Harrison Afful in the 4-1 win over NYCFC in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.

Columbus played in the 2015 MLS Cup final, losing 2-1 to Portland.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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