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Union's loss to Columbus clouds playoff picture

A win over the Crew in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday night would have left the Union in a tie for first place in MLS' Eastern Conference. But the 2-1 loss means a fight-to-the-finish just for one of the league's 10 playoff berths.

A WIN OVER the Crew in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday night would have left the Union in a tie for first place in MLS' Eastern Conference.

But the 2-1 loss means a fight-to-the-finish just for one of the league's 10 playoff berths.

The loss was not without some controversy.

With the score tied at 1-1 on first-half goals by the Crew's Edgar Renteria and the Union's Veljko Paunovic, Columbus was awarded a penalty kick by referee Mark Kadlecik for a handball in the penalty area by Sheanon Williams. Television replays showed the ball his Williams in his chest; his arms were down to avoid touching the ball.

But Andres Mendoza' PK in the 51st minute was the difference.

"It's physically impossible to see from the angle the referee was running and how far [away] he was," said Union manager Peter Nowak. "What can I say?"

Playoff berths go the first three teams in each conference, with four wild-card spots for teams with the next best records. After the weekend's games, the Union is fourth in the East, still in the third wild-card position, but with three teams within three points.

Somehow the Union went from first-place game to playoff struggler. The last 2 months of the season should be interesting.

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