E. RUTHERFORD, N.J.
7:30 pm ET (HDNet; MSG)
A lot of the tension of this Eastern Conference rivalry was taken out on Wednesday night, when the Columbus Crew extended their MLS-record unbeaten run to 16 games with a victory against the Chicago Fire and ensured they hold the top seed in the East for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The MetroStars have also clinched a place in the postseason, but still need to take three points to all but guarantee that they will hold home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs - and keep that chase from coming down to a head-to-head battle at D.C. United next weekend.
REFEREE: Ricardo Salazar. SAR (bench): Tom Supple; JAR (opposite): Rick Eddy; 4th: Alex Prus
MLS Career: 30 games; FC/gm: 32.8; Y/gm: 3.7; R: 8; pens: 11
Games involving MetroStars: P7 W3 L4 T0; FC/gm: 31.9; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 2; pens: 1
Games involving Crew: P9 W5 L2 T2; FC/gm: 32.9; Y/gm: 3.2; R: 2; pens: 4
INJURY REPORT: METROSTARS - OUT: MD Michael Bradley (R foot stress fracture); MD Mark Lisi (R ankle sprain); DF Tenywa Bonseu (L Achilles tendon tear) ... COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: MD Ross Paule (post concussion symptoms); DF Stephen Herdsman (L groin strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: MET: Eddie Gaven, Jonny Walker, Eddie Pope (USA, Oct. 9 v El Salvador); Amado Guevara (Honduras, Oct. 9 v Canada); Craig Ziadie (Jamaica, Oct. 9 v Panama); Cornell Glen (Trinidad& Tobago, Oct. 10 v St. Kitts & Nevis) ... CLB: Frankie Hejduk, Tony Sanneh (USA, Oct. 9 v El Salvador)
YELLOW PERIL: MET: Amado Guevara (18 CP); Jeff Parke (19 CP); Cornell Glen (17 CP); Chris Leitch (18 CP); Mike Magee (16 CP) ... CLB: Tony Sanneh (8 CP in 2 gms)
The Eastern Conference rivals meet for the fourth and final league encounter this season, the third meeting in the last six weeks. The MetroStars won the first meeting in the season opener at Crew Stadium, before they played to a 1-1 draw at Giants Stadium, Columbus then claiming a 4-2 victory at home three weeks ago.
The Crew twice came back from one-goal deficits as Edson Buddle hit for all four Columbus goals, becoming the sixth player in MLS history to hit for at least four goals in a game (the eighth time the feat has been achieved).
The home side twice answered MetroStars goals with three minutes. Buddle's first in the ninth minute canceled out a John Wolyniec volley of a poor clearance in the area, the Crew striker running on to a perfectly-weighted ball over the Metro rearguard by Ross Paule to race in alone on goal.
Then after the slightest of flicks from Eddie Gaven turned home an Amado Guevara free kick from the right corner in the 49th minute, Buddle struck again, completely unmarked in the goal area to head home a looped cross from Chris Wingert.
After coming on as a substitute, Jeff Cunningham then played provider for Buddle's final two goals, both with terrific through balls after running at the MetroStars back line. He first slipped through a pass in the 65th minute for Buddle to round Metro'keeper Jonny Walker, then nine minutes later Buddle finished with aplomb after Cunningham's angled pass split the visitors defense.
Here's Greg Andrulis's team (3-5-2): Jon Busch - Duncan Oughton, Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall - Frankie Hejduk, Tony Sanneh, Ross Paule, Simon Elliott, Chris Wingert (David Testo 81) - Kyle Martino (Jeff Cunningham 58), Edson Buddle (Danny Szetela 87)
Here's Bob Bradley's team (4-3-1-2): Jonny Walker - Tenywa Bonseu (Craig Ziadie 39), Jeff Parke, Eddie Pope, Chris Leitch - Eddie Gaven (Sergio Galvan Rey 86), Amado Guevara, Pablo Brenes - Mike Magee - Fabian Taylor (Cornell Glen 54), John Wolyniec.
The teams 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.
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 17 meetings in the series.
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.
John Wolyniec leads current MetroStars with 6 goals v Columbus - 5 while with the Metros. Mike Magee has 2 goals v the Crew, while Amado Guevara and Eddie Gaven are the only other active Metro players with a goal v Columbus (1 goal each).
Jeff Cunningham leads current Crew players with 6 goals, 6 assists v Metro (second on the club all-time list). Ross Paule has 5 goals, 4 assists against his former club - just 1 goal, 2 assists while in Columbus, while Edson Buddle now has 4 goals. Tony Sanneh had 3 goals, 3 assists v MetroStars, while Brian Maisonneuve has 3 goals, 2 assists and Frankie Hejduk has 2 goals, 3 assists.
Coaches record: Bob Bradley v CLB: P23 W14 L6 T3 ... Greg Andrulis vs. MET: P13 W6 L5 D2
ALL-TIME (31 meetings): MetroStars 13 wins, 43 goals ... Crew 16 wins, 44 goals ... 2 draws
IN GIANTS STADIUM (15 meetings): MetroStars 6 wins, 16 goals ... Crew 8 wins, 17 goals ... 1 draw
A Freddy Adu goal after 16 minutes was all D.C. United needed to all but ensure a second consecutive trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs after missing out for three consecutive seasons.
Adu's shot from the edge of the box took a wicked deflection off defender Jeff Parke and left Metro 'keeper Jonny Walker flat-footed on his line, United's defending rarely allowing the home side a chance over the remainder of the match. United can claim a postseason place with just one point over their final two matches of the campaign.
There was also a real edge to the game, typified in the first half when Adu was involved in a fracas with Mike Magee and Chris Leitch of the Metros. "I was walking away and Michael Magee comes out of nowhere and pushes me," Adu said. "What are you doing? They did that (before), trying to intimidate me. I'm not going to stand for that anymore. I don't care how young I am. I'm going to protect myself and my teammates."
"You lose at home against a team that's possibly shaping up to be our rival in the playoffs, there's a psychological aspect that you don't really like to lose at home," goalkeeper Jonny Walker said.
Metro coach Bob Bradley made no changes to the starting team that knocked off the Dallas Burn 2-0 the previous weekend. But he was forced into a change before a half-hour was played, Mike Magee forced off injured, replaced by Cornell Glen.
Here's Bradley's team (4-4-2): Jonny Walker - Craig Ziadie, Jeff Parke, Eddie Pope, Chris Leitch - Mike Magee (Cornell Glen 27), Gilberto Flores (Pablo Brenes 69), Ricardo Clark, Amado Guevara - Eddie Gaven, John Wolyniec (Fabian Taylor 64).
Already facing considerable absences to international duty, Bradley saw another forced during the United when Magee had to come off with a minor concussion, requiring a trip for a neurological exam at the hospital. He was classified as doubtful for this weekend.
The MetroStars continued their inconsistent run down the stretch, losing for the third time in five matches in a 1-0 home loss to D.C. United on Saturday evening. The loss left the MetroStars with 39 points from 28 matches and all but out of the running to claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference, now three points ahead of United with both teams having two matches to play as they seem on a collision course in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs - after meeting on the season's final day.
Edson Buddle's goal just before the hour, when he hammered home a free kick from just outside the penalty area, made the Fire's playoff aspirations even more precarious. After Chicago defender Evan Whitfield pulled down Cunningham just outside the area, Simon Elliott put the free kick into motion with a quick inside touch.
Buddle came on to hit a beautiful first-time curling strike that bent away from Ring as it settled inside his left-hand post over his outstretched arms. It was Buddle's 11th goal of the season, pulling him into a six-way tie for the Golden Boot as the league's leading goalscorer.
"A couple of saves from Henry Ring kept Chicago in it early and Jon Busch did what he had to do. But at the end of the day Edson Buddle put a ball where no goalkeeper gets," said Columbus head coach Greg Andrulis.
Andrulis made two changes to the team that played to a 3-3 draw with the Fire just four days earlier in Columbus - both caused by international absences, as Frankie Hejduk and Tony Sanneh were called into the U.S. team for the World Cup qualifier Saturday against El Salvador.
Nelson Akwari came back into the team in the back three as Duncan Oughton moved back to the right wingback role, while Edson Buddle also returned to the lineup after missing last weekend's match following the death of his grandfather.
Here's Andrulis's team (3-4-1-2): Jon Busch - Nelson Akwari, Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall - Duncan Oughton, Simon Elliott, Danny Szetela, Chris Wingert - Kyle Martino (Brian Maisonneuve 89) - Jeff Cunningham (Manny Lagos 68), Edson Buddle (David Testo 81).
"I thought it was a tale of two halves. I think we made a lot of changes in the first half based on some injuries and call-ups," Andrulis said. "We lost our shape a little bit tactically, but at halftime the adjustments were made and in the second half I thought we were very, very good. It's a typical Columbus Crew result, we found a way and grinded it out."
The victory secured the Crew's place in history, as they won eight and drawn eight games since their last league loss on June 26. It was also the first time the Crew have owned the top seed heading into the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"It was a little ugly in the first half. We had a little trouble keeping the ball and they had a couple of opportunities because we kept coughing the ball up. But the defenders played great, they were stellar as they have been all year long. Everybody worked hard. It wasn't the prettiest game, but Edson [Buddle] got an unbelievable goal - that should be goal of the year, I think. We defended like a team and got the three points that we needed. It's great. It was one of our goals coming into the season and we can check that off the list now. We can move on now to maybe winning the Supporters Shield and then into the playoffs and winning an MLS Cup." Busch said.
The Columbus Crew clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and guaranteed the East road to the MLS Cup Final will travel through Crew Stadium as they defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0 on Wednesday night at Soldier Field. The victory also put the Crew into the MLS record books, extending their unbeaten streak to 16 games, surpassing the previous mark set by the Los Angeles Galaxy over the '97-'98 seasons. The Crew are now two points ahead of the Kansas City Wizards in the race for the Supporters Shield, with 47 points from 28 matches as both clubs have two games remaining.
Both teams have clinched berths in the 2004 MLS Cup Playoffs, and the Columbus Crew own the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, meaning they will have home-field advantage as long as they are in the playoffs.
Following are the tiebreaking procedures if teams are level in the standings:
a. Head-to-head competition against all other teams equal in points, based on highest points-per-game average.
b. Overall team goal differential.
c. Total goals scored.
d-f. Tiebreakers a-c are applied to each team's regular-season road games only.
g-i. Tiebreakers a-c are applied to each team's regular-season home games only.
j. Fewest disciplinary points
k. Coin flip.
As of Oct. 6, here is how the MLS Cup playoffs would have looked:
SERIES A: (E1) Columbus vs. (E4) Chicago
SERIES B: (E2) MetroStars vs. (E3) D.C. United
SERIES C: (W1) Kansas City vs. (W4) San Jose
SERIES D: (W2) Los Angeles vs. (W3) Colorado
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: Winner of CLB/CHI vs. Winner of MET/DC
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: Winner of KC/SJ vs. Winner of COL/LA
MLS CUP 2004: Winners of Conference Championship Games
Series A - D played under home-and-home, total goals format ... If teams tied on aggregate, 30-minute, golden-goal overtime period follows, then followed by penalty kicks (if necessary) to determine Series winner ... Higher seed holds home-field advantage for Game 2 of Series ... Conference Championship Games and MLS Cup, if tied after 90 minutes, determined by 30-minute, golden-goal overtime ... If neither team scores during that time, the series will be decided via penalty kick shootout held according to FIFA regulations
Series A-D - Game One
Weekend of Friday, October 22 - Sunday, October 24 @ LOWER-SEED home site
Series A-D - Game Two (+ 30-minute golden-goal period, if tied on aggregate goals)
Weekend of Friday, October 29 - Friday, October 31 @ HIGHER-SEED home site
Eastern Conference Championship / Nov. 5 / 6 / 7
Western Conference Championship / Nov. 5 / 6 / 7
MLS Cup 2004 / Sun., Nov. 14 - ABC / 3:30 PM ET - The Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.