COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus Crew SC star striker Kei Kamara scored in extra time Sunday to end the Montreal Impact’s remarkable MLS season.
Ethan Finlay fed substitute Cedrick Mabwati, whose exquisite cross found the head of Kamara for his second goal of the night. The 111th-minute goal broke Montreal hearts, giving Columbus a 3-1 win on the night and 4-3 victory on aggregate in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Ignacio Patti had a chance to score for Montreal late in extra time but was off the mark.
Montreal had won the first leg of the series 2-1 at Saputo Stadium, a score Columbus matched on its own turf in regulation time with goals early and late sandwiched around a Dilly Duka strike.
The New York Red Bulls watched and waited, having dispatched D.C. United earlier in the day to book their ticket to the Eastern final.
Finlay tapped home a rebound in the 78th minute to force the extra time after Montreal ‘keeper Evan Bush had made a spectacular one-handed save to stop substitute Jack McInerney, a former Impact player. The goal gave Columbus a 2-1 lead on the day and knotted the aggregate at 3-3 with both teams having an away goal.
Duka’s 40th-minute goal and some stubborn defending had seemed to be enough to send the Impact into the Eastern Conference final, giving Montreal a 3-2 aggregate advantage. Bush did his part, saving a second-half penalty.
But Crew SC kept pressing. And finally got the goal it needed before a crowd of 19,026 at Mapfre Stadium.
Kamara scored in the fourth minute for Columbus, which dominated early but then let the Impact back into the game as the first half wore on.
The overtime was tense with players from both teams feeling the effects of an extended shift. McInerney shot just wide late in the first half of extra time while Montreal substitute Nigel Reo-Coker just missed getting to a Didier Drogba flick-on.
Trailing on aggregate to open the second half, Columbus needed two goals to advance — and one to force extra time. Kamara had a glorious chance in the 67th minute when Columbus was awarded a penalty kick but Bush made the save on an average spot kick.
Laurent Ciman was called for the penalty after — seemingly needlessly — putting his hands on Finlay as he tried to get the ball out of the penalty box.
The Impact were easy pickings early in the season. But they arrived in Columbus on a 9-2-2 roll since Sept. 5 with former Chelsea star Drogba leading the attack and Mauro Biello taking over as interim head coach.
Drogba had a quiet night, requiring treatment twice in the first half alone as he went up and down like a jack-in-the-box. He did try an audacious backheel in the 57th minute.
Crew SC defender Gaston Sauro was yellow-carded for one tackle that left the Ivorian face down.
The home fans offered their ironic take on the famous Drogba Legend banner back in Montreal, hanging a lookalike sign that read Drogba Leglock. Drogba was yellow-carded in the first game for grabbing Columbus ‘keeper Steve Clark’s leg after a run-in in the penalty box.
Columbus, which needed a goal to peg back the visitors, had a dream start.
Playmaker Federico Higuain set up the home team’s early opener with a beautiful sweeping ball to find a charging Waylon Francis down the left flank. Kamara, who had been quiet in the first leg after a 22-goal regular season, beat Ciman to the ball at the near post and headed it down past Bush.
The goal resulted from a Marco Donadel giveaway with Duka failing to stop the cross at the byline.
A soaring Kamara almost made it 2-0 eight minutes later, hitting the crossbar with a header on a feed from right fullback Harrison Afful. Drogba, nursing a knock, was on the ground at the other end of the pitch while the play unfolded.
Bush had to make two fine saves in the 23rd minute, parrying away Justin Meram’s shot from distance and then getting a hand to Finlay’s close-range shot off the rebound.
Montreal’s first crack at goal was a 29th-minute shot from Piatti that went high. Piatti ripped another shot just wide in the 39th minute and Donadel forced a good save from Clark seconds later as the Impact finally showed signs for life.
Duka, a former Columbus player, scored on a goalmouth scramble in the 40th minute from Donadel’s ensuing corner. Ciman and Victor Cabrera both had cracks at the ball, which eventually fell to Duka as Columbus failed to clear. Crew SC fans were hoping for an offside call on the play.
It was 10 degrees Celsius at kickoff and getting chillier with the sun descending behind the stands.
Biello made two changes from the first leg. Duka came in for Dominic Oduro — the two have been swapping starting spots recently — while Calum Mallace started for Reo-Coker, who was sick earlier in the week.
Montreal had won the three previous games against Columbus this year.
Crew SC was ousted by New England 7-3 on aggregate in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal.