Facing a Crew team without injured playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto for the second straight game, New York succumbed to the wiles of that renowned magician, Frankie Hejduk, who scored the equalizer and set up the clincher as Columbus rallied from a 1-0 deficit to win going away. Eddie Gaven (a tap-in) and Robbie Rogers (a missile), the Crew's winged wonders who've grafted a thirst for finishing to their considerable if inconsistent talents, notched the second and third goals.
Columbus (14-6-5, 47 points) widened its lead atop the Eastern Conference to six points. New York (9-8-8, 35 points), which was outshot, 19-9, retained fourth place but would slip to fifth if D.C. United wins Saturday at Home Depot Center, a very remote possibility yet still a possibility.
Giddy talk of reaching MLS Cup had erupted after a three-game winning streak in August, but since then the Red Bulls have tied one (D.C. United, 0-0) and lost two (1-0 to Chicago, 3-1 to the Crew) in their last three road games. Their only win (2-1) in the past four games in the Meadowlands against Real Salt Lake, another team that falls apart away from home. The Red Bulls road mark is 1-7-5.
The Crew is keeping it real. Despite just one loss in the last eight games Schmid is reminding his crew that tougher tests, such as next week's visit to Gillette Stadium, lie ahead.
Pat Noonan, whose spectacular equalizer and first goal for the club last week earned the Crew a 1-1 tie in Toronto, again assumed the playmaker role behind striker Alejandro Moreno, with Stefano Miglioranzi and Brian Carroll anchoring the middle. Emmanuel Ekpo replaced Miglioranzi (leg injury) in the 20th minute and used his bustling muscularity to create space as the Crew attacked on the flanks.
Gaven shook the goalpost with a fierce shot in the 16th minute, but five minutes later the Red Bulls turned to their star, Juan Pablo Angel, and he responded.
Angel won a free kick in the middle of the field and from more than 30 yards out bent it over the wall and high into the net for his eighth goal in the past 10 games and a 1-0 lead. New York held that edge for 20 minutes, with keeper Jon Conway keeping the Crew scoreless with a pair of sharp saves, but four minutes before halftime, Hejduk floated a ball from the right-side edge of the penalty area that caught Conway off his line and dropped just under the crossbar.
The "shot" had cross written all over it, yet Hejduk had at first faked his delivery to get an opponent in the air, and took the ball a bit wider before launching his first goal of the season and first in more than three years.
New York, stunned at the source of such a dramatic equalizer, tried to man through the final minutes so it could regroup at halftime. Before the whistle, however, Rogers gained steam on the left flank, veered inside Dane Richards, and from about 30 yards drilled a swerving ball that caught Conway shuffling the wrong way and cleanly beat his desperate lunge.
The Red Bulls pushed forward in the second half, but lacking Dutchman Dave van den Bergh, who was in Germany to undergo sports hernia surgery, they normally lacked the efficient wide play of their opponents. Still, Crew keeper Will Hesmer had to match Conway to keep the score at 2-1 around the 75th minute. He turned away a low shot from John Wolyniec, who'd been sent clear by a Jorge Rojas through ball, after Conway kick-saved a Rogers effort.
With five minutes left in regulation, Hejduk ran onto a Noonan pass and took it nearly to the goal line before centering for Gaven, starkly unmarked, to tuck into the net.
New York's poor night turned worse when defender Kevin Goldthwaite took a pair of nasty whacks at Rogers near the corner flag. The first one managed to nick the ball, but when the second plunged right into Rogers' Achilles tendon and sent him to the ground, referee Alex Prus went for the red.
New York has more than a week to regroup for its next contest, a very winnable home game against Colorado. It could have made a statement playing the league's best team lacking the league leader in assists; unfortunately, the message that came across was, "We're not ready."
Sept. 18 in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus 3 New York 1. Goals: Hejduk 41, Rogers 46, Gaven (Hejduk, Noonan) 85; Angel 21.
Columbus -- Hesmer, Hejduk, Marshall, O'Rourke, Padula, Carroll, Miglioranzi (Ekpo, 20) (Iro, 83), Gaven, Rogers, Noonan (Garey, 86), Moreno.
New York -- Conway, Boyens, Cichero, Parke, Goldthwaite, Richards, Pietravallo (Wolyniec, 54), Stammler, Rojas, Magee (Borman, 61), Angel.
Yellow Cards: New York -- Boyens 34, Cichero 52, Richards 68.
Red Card: New York -- Goldthwaite 89.
Referee: Alex Prus.