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COLUMBUS CREW STADIUM
7:30 pm ET (MSG)
First place in the Eastern Conference is on the line in Columbus when the Crew and MetroStars do battle on Saturday evening - but both teams could come out of the match knowing they've secured a playoff berth with a victory (the Metros would then also need the New England Revolution to lose to Colorado, while that result would then guarantee the Crew qualify for the playoffs regardless of Saturday's result in Columbus). The Crew haven't lost in nearly three months while moving to the top of the table, while the MetroStars ended a four-match winless run in their last game, a comeback from two goals down to the Revolution.
What follows are the scenarios under which each club can clinch a berth in the postseason.
COLUMBUS clinches with a:
(a) win vs. MetroStars
(b) New England Revolution loss
(c) New England Revolution tie
METROSTARS qualify with a:
(a) win vs. Crew + New England Revolution loss or tie
(b) tie vs. Crew + New England Revolution loss
(NOTE: The Crew own the tiebreaker vs. the New England Revolution with a 2-0-2 regular season record. The MetroStars and Revolution tied their season series at 1-1-2 and the subsequent tiebreaker per League regulations is final regular season goal differential)
For the Crew it would mark a return to the MLS Cup Playoffs after a one-year absence (the Black-and-Gold failed to qualify for the playoffs in both the 2000 and 2003 seasons). The MetroStars could qualify for their fourth postseason appearance in the last five years (the team missed out in 2002).
At the end of the season four teams qualify from each conference and advance to the home-and-home, aggregate goal MLS Cup Conference Semifinals (No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3). The two teams left standing in each conference will meet in the Conference Championships with the winners advancing to MLS Cup 2004 at The Home Depot Center on November 14 (live on ABC Sports at 3:30 p.m. ET).
REFEREE: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Tom Supple; JAR (opposite): Bill Dittmar; 4th: Hilario Grajeda
MLS Career: 105 games; FC/gm: 26.5; Y/gm: 3.4; R: 29; pens: 19
Games involving Crew: P13 W6 L7 T0; FC/gm: 26.1; Y/gm: 3.2; R: 3; pens: 2
Games involving MetroStars: P23 W7 L14 T2; FC/gm: 26.8; Y/gm: 3.7; R: 10; pens: 5
INJURY REPORT: COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: DF Stephen Herdsman (L groin strain); GK Matt Jordan (R calf strain) ... METROSTARS - OUT: MD Michael Bradley (R foot stress fracture); MD Mark Lisi (R ankle sprain); MD Joselito Vaca (R knee MCL sprain); DOUBTFUL: MD Gilberto Flores (L ankle ruptured tendon); QUESTIONABLE: DF Tenywa Bonseu (L Achilles tendonitis)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: MET: Ricardo Clark (through Sept. 18)
YELLOW PERIL: CLB: Nelson Akwari (20 CP); Frankie Hejduk (20 CP); Chris Wingert (19 CP) ... MET: Amado Guevara (18 CP); Jeff Parke (19 CP)
The Eastern Conference rivals meet for the third of four scheduled encounters this year, the second in a run of three meetings over the final third of the season. The MetroStars won the first meeting in the season opener at Crew Stadium, before they played to a 1-1 draw three weeks ago.
Status quo was maintained atop the East when the settled for a frustrating 1-1 draw on Aug. 29. The Metros took the lead after 21 minutes when Amado Guevara's wickedly bending free kick was tipped onto the bar by Crew 'keeper Jon Busch, but after he crashed heavily into the post, John Wolyniec was there to finally prod the rebound over the line from close range.
The Crew then leveled terms 14 minutes later when Kyle Martino was tripped up by center back Jeff Parke as he tried to burst between Parke and Eddie Pope in the area, Ross Paule converting the spot kick by just getting it past Jonny Walker's dive.
Crew 'keeper Jon Busch was credited with 12 saves to hold up his end of the result, but Walker will likely thank his posts. Crew rookie defender Chad Marshall hit the woodwork with a header in the first half, and in the second Edson Buddle had a low drive come off the base of the frame. Then in stoppage time Marshall saw another free header from a corner stopped, this time on the goal line by Metro midfielder Pablo Brenes.
Here's Bob Bradley's team (4-3-1-2): Jonny Walker - Tenywa Bonseu, Jeff Parke, Eddie Pope, Chris Leitch - Joselito Vaca (Pablo Brenes 20), Amado Guevara, Eddie Gaven - Mike Magee - John Wolyniec (Sergio Galvan Rey 80), Cornell Glen (Fabian Taylor 64).
Here's Greg Andrulis's team (3-5-2): Jon Busch - Nelson Akwari (Danny Szetela 74), Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall - Frankie Hejduk (David Testo 83), Duncan Oughton, Ross Paule, Simon Elliott, Chris Wingert - Edson Buddle, Kyle Martino (Jeff Cunningham 73)
The MetroStars won that season opener 3-1 at Crew Stadium on April 3, reversing a loss to the Crew in the season opener a year ago.
Some real opportunism from Frankie Hejduk gave the home side the lead after a half-hour, lunging to head home from close range after MetroStars 'keeper Jonny Walker had parried an initial shot.
But a looping header from Mike Magee pulled the visitors level before the break (40), then strike partner John Wolyniec turned home a low cross from Mark Lisi for the eventual game-winner (52). Amado Guevara gave Metro their final margin of victory two minutes from time when he hammered home a rebound from close range.
A year ago, MetroStars won the season series with two victories in the four meetings, Columbus winning one and one ending in a draw. Tight defensive battles characterized the league series, with no team scoring more than one goal in any match.
Jeff Cunningham scored the lone goal in the Crew win on April 12, then Mike Magee netted the only goal in the Metro win two weeks later, the road team winning on both occasions. The clubs played to a 1-1 draw on May 31 in Columbus (Cunningham 34 - Mathis 64 pen), then MetroStars won Sept. 20 at Giants Stadium by the only goal , a golden goal from John Wolyniec.
But the two teams exploded for seven goals in their third round U.S. Open Cup matchup, MetroStars advancing with a 4-3 victory after twice coming back from two goals down.
Until the final two meetings a year ago, the visiting team had won the previous seven contests between the clubs, and 11 of the previous 12, dating back to the 1999 campaign. The road team has won 12 of the last 16 meetings in the series.
John Wolyniec leads current MetroStars with 5 goals v Columbus - 4 while with the Metros. Mike Magee has 2 goals v the Crew, while Amado Guevara is the only other active Metro with a goal v Columbus (1 goal, 1 assist).
Jeff Cunningham leads current Crew players with 6 goals, 4 assists v Metro (second on the club all-time list). Ross Paule has 5 goals, 3 assists against his former club - just 1 goal, 1 assist while in Columbus. Brian Maisonneuve has 3 goals, 2 assists, while Frankie Hejduk has 2 goals, 3 assists.
Amazingly, the clubs had never played to a draw until last year. They had no match decided by a shootout, and did not see a match extended into extra time until the 2002 series.
Coaches record: Greg Andrulis vs. MET: P12 W5 L5 D2 ... Bob Bradley v CLB: P22 W14 L5 T3
ALL-TIME (30 meetings): Crew 15 wins, 40 goals ... MetroStars 13 wins, 41 goals ... 2 draws
IN COLUMBUS (15 meetings): Crew 7 wins, 23 goals ... MetroStars 7 wins, 25 goals ... 1 draw
Tony Sanneh hit for his first goal in Major League Soccer in more than six years, hitting in the first minute of stoppage time to give the Crew the victory, the first goal allowed by the Earthquakes in more than 7½ hours.
Despite the home side dominating much of the match, just when it seemed the match would dwindle to a draw, a Simon Elliott free kick lofted from the right found Sanneh, and he hit for his first MLS goal since the 1998 season, when he was with D.C. United.
Crew head coach Greg Andrulis made no changes to the team that took over top spot in the East with a 3-1 home victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy four days earlier.
Here's Andrulis's team (3-5-2): Jon Busch - Nelson Akwari, Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall - Duncan Oughton, Simon Elliott, Ross Paule, Tony Sanneh, Chris Wingert (David Testo 89) - Edson Buddle (Jeff Cunningham 65), Kyle Martino (Manny Lagos 79).
For Sanneh, it was his first goal in an MLS game since June 3, 1998, when he scored the final goal in a 4-0 D.C. United away to San Jose. He did score goals later that season in a United uniform, hitting in two of the three matches against the Crew in the Eastern Conference finals (2-0 on Oct. 11; 2-4 on Oct. 18), and also hitting for the first in United's stunning 2-0 win against Brazilian outfit Vasco da Gama to claim the Interamerican Cup.
"For (Sanneh) to make an immediate contribution like he has, it couldn't have gone any better," Martino said. "That's something that came along at a very crucial time in the season when we were playing very well. Adding someone to the lineup after playing so well could have been an interesting twist; it could have been hard for us to do without missing a beat. But he's come in and helped the team a lot."
The Crew now come into this weekend's match knowing a victory - or a New England Revolution draw or loss in their home game against San Jose - clinches a playoff spot.
"(The playoffs are) one of the goals we set early in the preseason, but we haven't talked about anything but the next game for the last couple of months," Andrulis said. "That singular focus has really helped us."
Saturday's match begins a run of three home games - the final three regular season matches at Crew Stadium for the club. They finish with three away matches. "All tiebreakers will factor into it. We have five of six games within the conference. We need to take care of those games," said Andrulis.
The Columbus Crew have had 10 days off since extending their club record winning streak to 12 games with a dramatic 1-0 victory away to the San Jose Earthquakes at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 8. The Crew defeated a California club for the second time in four days as they maintained their hold on the top spot in the Eastern Conference, now on 37 points from 24 matches, one ahead of the MetroStars but with a match in hand.
The MetroStars defeated the Revolution for the first time in 11 league and MLS Cup meetings after coming back from an early two-goal deficit.
Pat Noonan gave the visitors the lead after just five minutes, his glancing header off a Steve Ralston catching out a flat-footed Metro defense. Taylor Twellman then doubled the lead just before the quarter-hour after a remarkable bit of head tennis, a Matt Reis clearance headed on first by Noonan, then by Ralston, before Twellman looped a header over Metro 'keeper Jonny Walker from just inside the right corner of the area (14).
But the MetroStars began their fightback barely 15 minutes later, Mike Magee cheekily converting from the penalty spot after Eddie Gaven was tripped up by Joe Franchino after racing into the box, Magee smoothly chipping the ball down the center of the goal.
The home side then pulled level in stoppage time before the break, Gaven finishing off a neat passing sequence after Magee's chip from the left was subtlely helped on by Fabian Taylor before the Metro teenager came on to bang the ball home.
The MetroStars then completed their comeback midway through the second half when Cornell Glen scored after a long run, set free by a pinpoint through ball from John Wolyniec inside his own half. The Trinidad & Tobago international outraced two defenders before beating Reis inside his right post from right on the edge of the area (68).
"It gives us confidence going into the playoffs," midfielder Ricardo Clark said. "We played with a playoff mentality tonight, and every game from here on out has to be that way because once the playoffs start it only takes one game to mess things up for the rest of the season."
MetroStars head coach Bob Bradley made three changes to the team that lost 1-0 away to the Kansas City Wizards the previous weekend. Eddie Pope returned from national team duty in place of Kenny Arena in central defense, while Mike Magee and Fabian Taylor returned to the first XI, coming in for Tim Regan and Sergio Galvan Rey.
Here's Bradley's team (4-1-3-2): Jonny Walker - Tenywa Bonseu, Jeff Parke, Eddie Pope, Chris Leitch - Ricardo Clark - Eddie Gaven, Mike Magee, Pablo Brenes - John Wolyniec, Fabian Taylor (Cornell Glen 63).
Bradley had a remarkably young group start the match in midfield - an average age of less than in Clark (21), Gaven (17), Magee (20) and Brenes (21).
"To come back and win with the group on the field tonight was a good step," Bradley said. "But that's the point that I keep making: Now we need to make the next step. And the next step. We've made some good steps this year, but usually it's one or two forward, and then sometimes, one or two backwards. It's that up and down, that inconsistency that's still the challenge. We've got to get over the hump."
Glen was expected to be in the starting lineup, but was kept out after not returning from Trinidad & Tobago until Friday, delayed by Hurricane Ivan. He played in T&T's two World Cup qualifiers on Sunday and Wednesday. "Luckily for me I scored early, as soon as I came on," he said. "My legs were completely tired, gone. I was just trying to give it my best."
It was the first time in more than three years (since May 5, 2001) that the MetroStars came back from a two-goal deficit to win. Last year, they overcame a three-goal deficit to claim a 3-3 draw with the Revolution.
It was also the first time in more than two months that the MetroStars had allowed two goals in a game - not since a 6-2 drubbing by D.C. United at RFK Stadium on July 3.
Gilberto Flores, sidelined since June 26 after ankle surgery, is close to being match-fit and again being available for selection.
The MetroStars ended their four-match winless streak in dramatic fashion, coming back from a two-goal deficit to defeat the New England Revolution 3-2 at home on Saturday evening, pulling back to within a point of the Eastern Conference lead. The MetroStars are on 36 points from 25 matches, one behind the Columbus Crew, but having played one more game.