Defensive lapses doom Crew in bid for second crown

Nyassi exploits backline twice to deny Columbus USOC title

Defense wins championships.

The Crew didn’t have enough of it in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday, and that’s why it was the upstart Sounders who won a second title and Columbus who came away empty-handed.

Cracks were apparent throughout the Crew back four and backup goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum was not decisive enough on the goals in the 2-1 loss, the Crew’s first USOC Final appearance since winning the tournament in 2002.

WATCH: CREW PLAYERS REACT TO USOC LOSS

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“We created a lot of chances,” Crew midfielder Kevin Burns said. “I think even their coach (Sigi Schmid) said they were pretty lucky. I’d be more OK with losing on two great goals than two that bounced their way. With the crowd and the atmosphere they’re a solid team. We didn’t lose to a bad team.”

The defeat at Qwest Field is further indication that the Crew continue to struggle with teams that can run right at them with unrelenting speed.

Seattle were able to exploit even speedy rookie left back Shaun Francis and he was too often left chasing the play rather than keeping it in front of him.

On the other side, captain Frankie Hejduk had a long night. With the Crew up 1-0 on Burns’s goal in the 24th minute, Hejduk didn’t track Tyson Wahl off his throw-in from the left side. Wahl gave the ball to Fredy Montero and Hejduk went over to mark him, despite Chad Marshall draping the Seattle player.

Montero fed a wide open Wahl, who was able to send the ball into the box, where Gruenebaum hesitated whether to grab the ball or punch it. He knocked it away, but the ball came to Nathan Sturgis, and who skipped a pass between the legs of Eddie Gaven to find Sanna Nyassi 18 yards out for the first of his two goals on the night.

“We were OK at halftime,” Burns said. “Our heads weren’t down.”

Hejduk had a decent game offensively, setting up the first goal with a nice touch back to Steven Lenhart, who then rolled the ball to Burns for his first career goal. Hejduk also sent a wonderful cross to the spot in the 85th that substitute midfielder Robbie Rogers fired off the crossbar for what would have been the tying goal.

“We started the second half strong and we weren’t able to convert on our opportunities and the ball (by Rogers) bounced off the bar straight to one of their guys,” Crew midfielder Brian Carroll said.

Still, Hejduk was guilty of too many hurried passes when he had space just as Francis was jittery with the ball all game, especially on overlapping runs that with good services could have created scoring chances.

Centerback Andy Iro had his troubles as well, and on consecutive touches in the second half he needlessly flailed the ball downfield where Seattle took possession. The second mistake was the result of an errant pass to Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Seattle then strung together 18 passes before Montero got open to receive the 19th on the right flank. He sent a cross into the box that Gruenebaum opted not to go after. Instead, Hejduk got beat inside by Steve Zakuani and the ball bounced once before Zakuani’s header hit the crossbar

As the Crew back four stood on the edge of the goal box, Nyassi streaked in to easily deposit the ball into the net in the 66th minute.

“I thought we played good enough to win,” Carroll said. “On their two goals the balls didn’t bounce our way. We created opportunities. We had a good enough game plan to win.”

The Crew have not lost a match all season in MLS play when scoring first, but other than Rogers’ attempt and a vapid shot by Gaven two minutes prior to Nyassi’s winner, the Crew struggled to muster any real bite in the final third.

If there was a star for the Crew it was Schelotto, who played inspired and kept putting his teammates in position to score but other than Burns they let him down.

The Crew has no time to wallow. Columbus play Friday at Chicago, trying to snap a 0-2-2 streak in league play.