Fabian Espindola’s superb finish of a late first half counterattack had D.C. United on track for a third straight win, one that would have represented a dramatic turnaround from the team’s opening day result. Embarrassed at home 3-0 by Columbus last month, United saw 2014 begin as 2013 ended. Five weeks later, Ben Olsen’s team was minutes away from redemption, allowing a late, controversial decision from referee Juan Guzman to be rendered irrelevant.
Instead, a 90th minute goal from Héctor Jiménez allowed the Eastern Conference leaders to earn an unlikely 1-1 draw, one they would have been less likely to claim had Giancarlo Gonzalez rightly been sent off in the 73rd minute.
That’s when Eddie Johnson, having gotten behind the Columbus defender, was pulled down from behind as he was going in on goal. The United forward had possession of the ball. There was nobody in between him and goal. He was running right toward Steve Clark. It was, by all definitions of the scenario, a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity, with the nature of the grab by Gonzalez hinting the Costa Rican knew what was likely to come:
At the time, Columbus was down 1-0. Had Johnson been allowed to go in alone, he would have a good chance of putting the match away. In acting so obviously, Gonzalez seemed to be conceding his team had a better chance of coming back if he got dismissed but kept his team within one.
He also had a chance to encountering a lenient referee, something you can’t ignore in these situations. Gonzalez had to assume he was going to walk, but there are a significant number of officials that would probably make the same mistake. Some referees just loathe using that red card, even if the rules make it obligatory. In pulling out the yellow, Guzman not only gave Columbus an unfairly generous judgment, he also showed why it sometimes pays to hope for human error.
Gonzalez’s hopes paid off big-time at the end of regulation time. After Wil Trapp forced a turnover and found Jiménez on the left flank, the former LA Galaxy midfielder cut in on his right foot and beat Andrew Dykstra – a beautiful, curling goal that allowed Columbus to avoid an upset loss.
Columbus could have very well come back to draw had they lost Gonzalez, but it would have been far less likely, particularly given Bernardo Añor got himself sent off for a two-footed tackle in the 81st minute. Nine on 11? Yeah, it could happen, but that game is probably over. D.C. United would have been far more likely to get a second goal than concede an equalizer.
Regardless, Guzman did D.C. a disservice. Perhaps the team’s lead was less a result of great play than opportunism, but it was a lead they earned – a lead they deserved to defend without such an obvious officiating error helping Columbus.
Unfortunately, in this game, a one-goal lead is never secure. You have to be prepared for fortune to complicate your night. You have to try to get another goal.