Despite ironic defeat Crew still at top of conference as playoffs approach

The game of soccer is not without a sense of irony, or so it would seem. Perhaps it’s fitting that the man who coached the team at the beginning of the Crew’s 22-game home unbeaten streak also brought it to an end with his triumphant return to Crew Stadium Saturday night. The irony was apparently lost on the 14,372 disappointed Crew fans in attendance. Former Crew coach Sigi Schmid, last year’s Coach of the Year in the team’s championship season, brought his Seattle Sounders FC to Columbus in search of points for his playoff push and left with a 1-0 victory.“The game of soccer is a strange game,” Schmid said. “The Crew is the best team in the league, and for us to be able to come in here and win 1-0, no matter how it was [played], is something to be very proud of.” It was a night in which nothing would bounce the Crew’s way. Literally.Twenty-four minutes into the game, Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven put a shot on goal that Seattle defender Tyrone Marshall attempted to clear with a header. He didn’t get it cleanly, and the ball squirted toward the net. It hit the right goalpost, appeared to be going in and then ricocheted away.Seattle was able to cash in their next scoring opportunity. Sounders’ forward Fredy Montero took a pass at the top left corner of the box and put a shot on goal. Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer slid down on his right side and appeared to make the save, but the ball came off his gloves with Montero still charging. Montero’s teammate Roger Levesque cleaned it up for his first career goal.The Sounders made the one-goal lead stand up.Mid-way through the second half, Crew fan favorite Steven Lenhart entered the game to the wild cheers of the Columbus faithful. The energy in the stadium picked up noticeably.Lenhart made his presence felt immediately. Charging the net, Lenhart headed a Gaven crossing attempt toward the goal. Marshall made an athletic bicycle kick inches in front of the goal to preserve Seattle’s lead.When informed of the fluky way in which his goal was averted, Lenhart said, “That’s how it goes. It sucks because the goalie’s allowed to use his hands and I’m not.”The Crew’s best chance at an equalizer came on Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s penalty kick with seven minutes remaining in regulation. Schelotto had been eight for eight in such situations on the season.His shot sailed wide left of the goal, and the Crew’s hopes of preserving the winning streak sailed with it.Schelotto was noticeably somber in the locker room after the game. “I feel bad for the missed penalty [shot]. I shot so bad and put the ball outside. It’s my fault,” he said.His teammate Hesmer wasn’t so quick to assign blame for the loss. “How many has Guillermo taken for us and nailed them every time? You can’t help but think that eventually the guy’s gonna be human and miss one,” Hesmer said.Schmid said of the shot, “We know that [Schelotto] likes to go down the middle when he can. We said ‘Just hold your ground, hold your ground. Force him into making a decision.’ But he’s not going to miss very often, so we’ll take it.”The victory for Seattle (10-7-11) puts them in a tie for third in the Western Conference with Chivas USA. The Crew (12-5-10) remain atop the East.