Clark emphatically sends Crew into League break

Columbus keeper saves Fabian Espindola’s penalty in stoppage time

It would be hyperbole to say that Steve Clark rescued the Crew’s season, or that his penalty stop on Fabian Espindola kept the Black & Gold alive in the playoff race. Considering the alternative, however, it sure feels like his stone-cold save in stoppage time might unfold as one of the most crucial moments in this season’s campaign.

Factually, instead of entering the three-week FIFA World Cup break on a three-match winless streak, the Crew now enters it on a two-match unbeaten streak. Perhaps more important is the gigantic mental impact of emerging from FedExField in a showcase atmosphere with one point rather than a heartbreaking loss.

When Columbus suffered a deflating result in Toronto last Saturday, players and coaches alike suggested that the lone positive was the club’s impending midweek match, which allowed it to get right back into the swing of things and erase the result from memory. Had Espindola’s chipped effort found the back of the net, the Crew would have been left with a similar loss, but weeks to stew on it. Now, the team can prepare for its 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup debut and its three-week League break on a far higher note.

Clark stood still on Espindola’s penalty and calmly caught the chipped shot, preserving the point for the Crew. After the match, the Columbus keeper credited scouting reports for anticipating the cheeky move.

“We had pretty good intel from our goalkeeper trainer, Pat [Onstad],” said Clark. “He has done a great job all year, so I felt like I know he was going to go there. I had my cue, so I just waited him out. I didn’t care if he was going to score; I was going to wait up the middle.”

While Clark’s save was the biggest individual moment in the match, it would be foolish to underestimate the coaching staff’s contributions in the spot-on scouting report, or the backline’s performance as a whole. Despite more lineup rotation, which included shifting Michael Parkhurst to rightback for the first time all season, Columbus and Clark kept a clean sheet for the third time in 2014.

Another defender who contributed to the shutout was Eric Gehrig, who once again played a fantastic game at centerback and aided Clark’s save with a bit of inspiration just before the penalty attempt.

“Right when [the penalty was called], I had a feeling Steve was going to save it,” said Gehrig. “I actually ran up to him and said, ‘You’re going to save it, Steve.’

“It just shows that Steve does his homework. He’s a big-time player, he’s a gamer. It takes a lot of guts to just stand there on a PK. He believed in himself and he made the save. It’s big for us.”

It might not be quantifiable as to how big, but one thing is for certain: this team needed an uplifting moment heading into the break, and Clark provided it.