for this game

Lenhart tally earns Crew draw with Wizards

Nov 2, 2008 - 3:38 AM By Marc Bowman PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

KANSAS CITY, Kansas (Ticker) -- Steven Lenhart delivered in the clutch for the Columbus Crew to forge a 1-1 tie with the Kansas City Wizards in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series on Saturday.

Lenhart, who came on as a substitute in the 83rd minute, collected a touch pass from Alejandro Moreno two minutes into stoppage time and connected on a 16-yard drive past goalkeeper Kevin Hartman into the lower left corner of the net.

It was the fifth score in 11 games for Lenhart - his third as a late-game substitute - and his second in as many games.

"The ball was played in over me," Lenhart said. "I turned around and it bounced back to my feet. I was trying to stay in front of the goal. I'm just lucky, I guess."

"Tying the game late is special," Crew captain Frankie Hejduk said. "Our locker room is buzzing now. We've been battling back all year. I don't think it's a surprise. We've come from behind earlier in the year and it built our confidence."

Columbus collected the MLS Supporters' Shield with a league-best 57 points from a 17-7-6 record. The Crew clinched a post-season berth early and coasted to a 1-1-1 record over their final three matches on the heels of winning seven-of-eight to guarantee home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Yet the Crew needed a late goal to pull even as they head home for leg two next Saturday.

"We knew going in it wasn't going to be pretty, that they were going to throw everything they had at us, at home," Hejduk said. "Now we get to return home and, hopefully, keep the momentum going."

Herculez Gomez was given a red card in the 75th minute for a serious foul, forcing Kansas City to play a man down and allowing Columbus to adopt an even more aggressive attack over the final minutes. Gomez will be suspended for the Wizards next match.

"The red card was huge," Kansas City captain Jimmy Conrad said. "It was huge, especially after we brought in Josh (Wolff) to play right forward and he had to drop to middle back. He did a fine job but it affected us and it gave them confidence to take some chances, and they made some substitutions that they wouldn't have made if it was even (on each side)."

Lenhart's heroics stifled a sellout crowd of 10,385 after Davy Arnaud had given the Wizards a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute.

"They were bringing the attack to us," Hejduk said. "The red card gave us a little more momentum. Having the extra man forward helped us get the ball in the box."

Claudio Lopez, who had three game-winning assists for Kansas City during the regular season, delivered a long crossing pass to Arnaud who headed it past Columbus goalkeeper William Hesmer from 10 yards out.

Lopez has assisted on each of Arnaud's last three goals as the pair have teamed for tallies in three straight games - including the previous two Wizards victories which capped the regular season.

Kansas City earned the Eastern Conference's fourth seed with 42 points from an 11-10-9 record, finishing strong with five wins and 16 points from their final seven games. Coach Curt Onalfo instituted a new system - emphasizing the combination of striker Lopez and playmaking midfielder Gomez, who have combined for three goals and six assists since September 13.

"It's like going into halftime 0-0, as far as I'm concerned, or 1-1," Onalfo said. "I'm disappointed because I felt like we should've walked out of here with three points and a one-goal advantage. But we didn't.

"Listen, nobody ever said this stuff was going to be easy. We know we have a difficult challenge going to their place, where they've been very, very good. But, having said that, I believe in the guys in this locker room. (We've) been through worse and we'll find a way to rebound from this."

If next Saturday's game ends in a tie there will be a 15-minute "Golden Goal" period and, if still tied, the playoff will be settled with penalty kicks.

"Really, the pressure is on them," Conrad said. "They're the (Supporters') Shield team. Last year we went in 1-0 against Chivas and I think we'll have a better mindset now that we're having to play to win instead of trying to hold for a tie."

"I think maybe we will be better off going in there and playing to win," Hartman said. "To go in there and blow it all out in that last game will be good for us."