His winning goal was the result of help from several teammates, but Justin Meram credited outside assistance when the Crew needed it most.
In a scoreless tie against a Chivas USA team at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, Meram entered the game in the 80th minute as a substitute for an injured Eddie Gaven. As he did, the official warned him to remove the bracelet around his left arm — the one reading “Kirk Urso #15,” a tribute to the Crew midfielder who died six weeks ago.
Meram stuffed the black bracelet into his right sock. Nine minutes later, he scored in a 1-0 victory at Crew Stadium that nudged the Crew back into possession of the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“My man Kirk, I love him to death,” Meram said. “He was with me tonight.”
The victory ended a two-game losing streak for the Crew (13-10-6). In each of its past four victories, the Crew has scored the winning goal in the 86th minute or later.
With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, second-half substitute Tony Tchani sent a long through ball to the left side of the Crew’s attacking area, where it found forward Federico Higuain. Near the end line, Higuain sent in a cross to the top of the goalie’s box, where a charging Jairo Arrieta met it with a feet-first slide.
His initial, point-blank attempt went directly at Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, but Kennedy could not make the save cleanly. From his back, Arrieta somehow leapt up and headed the ball backward into the area, where a waiting Meram got off a left-footed bouncer that found the net.
With the crowd of 13,874 ignited, Meram ripped off his jersey and sprinted around the field, earning a yellow card.
“For some reason, I had a feeling that after my next goal, I wanted to take my shirt off and see how that feels,” Meram said. “I think it was the right moment to do it.”
The victory gives the Crew 45 points, one more than D.C. United and five fewer than second-place Chicago, but Chivas (7-14-7) made sure the Crew did not escape cleanly. After the game, Gaven sported an ice wrap on his right shin and said he will be examined by doctors today.Higuain, who was limited to a few minutes off the bench against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday because of a foot injury, played the entire game.“I’m better than the last couple games against New England and New York, but it’s still sore,” he said through a translator. “I need to keep working on the rehab and try to get rid of the pain as soon as possible.”
Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, who suffered cuts to his face and a lower-back injury against New York, earned his eighth shutout of the season and the Crew’s first in 11 games. When he awoke yesterday, Gruenebaum said, he was unsure whether he would be able to play, but he came into the Crew’s facility early and got a shot for his pain.
Midfielder Dilly Duka was replaced in the 57th minute and quickly went to the locker room. When asked whether Duka was injured, coach Robert Warzycha said he did not see Duka leave but hopes he was not injured.