Columbus Crew shot-stopper Steve Clark has become a fan favourite since joining the club back in 2014, due to his eccentric style and ability to keep calm under pressure. Although, those same attributes came back to bite him at the 2015 MLS Cup, and may have even lost The Black & Gold the trophy.
The 20th MLS Cup saw Columbus Crew take on Portland Timbers, the first ever franchise team to reach the final. As the two clubs finished the regular season with a total of 53 points each, Columbus Crew earned the right to host the game at the MAPFRE Stadium due to their superior goal difference. Home advantage saw The Black & Gold named as favourites going into the match, but there was every chance that Portland Timbers would pull off a shock, given that they had one of the lowest goals against totals in MLS throughout 2015.
Although, it took just 27 seconds for the tables to turn. Steve Clark put himself under pressure early on with a short goal-kick which unsurprisingly found its way back to him with Portland midfielder Diego Valeri breathing down his neck. Nobody would have blamed him for hoofing the ball as far up field as he could possibly get it, but after taking one touch too many, his clearance merely bounced off of Valeri’s foot into the net. The goal was the fastest in MLS Cup history, and left Columbus Crew with a lot to do in the 89 remaining minutes.
Things went from bad to worse for the club just six minutes later, as the assistant referee failed to call for a throw-in after the ball went out of bounds. As the Columbus Crew players stood around waiting for the call to be made, Darlington Nagbe made a bursting run forward before passing wide to Lucas Melano. The cross came in and Rodney Wallace got his head to the ball to make it 2-0. There wasn’t much that Clark could have done to stop it, but Columbus Crew’s day was quickly falling to pieces.
Just ten minutes later, and it was The Timbers’ Adam Larsen Kwarasey who took his turn to make a mess of things. A Harrison Afful cross eventually found its way into the outstretched hands of Kwarasey just off of his goal-line. However, the shot-stopper missed the catch, allowing star striker Kei Kamara to put it away as Portland’s defence scrambled to block it.
The game would finish 2-1, but not for the want of trying. Steve Clark certainly redeemed himself in the second half, and without him between the sticks The Timbers may have been celebrating a 4-1 scoring at the end of the game. Twice Portland had the ball cleared off of the line and twice they hit the post, but when fullback Nat Borchers got his head to the ball from just yards out late on, it appeared to be a certain goal. Clark was on hard to stop the shot with his legs before scooping it up to guarantee safety, pulling off what was undeniably the best save of the game.
Both goalkeepers made mistakes at the 2015 MLS Cup, but at least their shoddy saves were somewhat overshadowed by the match officials, who seemed determined to upstage them. Columbus Crew were unlucky, given that Portland’s second goal shouldn’t have stood, but, ultimately, Clark’s blunder put them on the back foot early on, and it was an uphill struggle from then on..