The Columbus Crew did what they've done all season long Wednesday night. They battled through a tightly contested match, defended well as a unit and took advantage of a scoring opportunity to produce a 1-0 win against the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field.
But Edson Buddle's stunning free kick did more than just squeak out three points for the Crew. It put Columbus in the MLS record books for the longest consecutive streak without a loss (16 games), ensured the side their first-ever No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and, perhaps most importantly, secured home-field advantage for the Crew throughout the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"The team played great," said Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch, who on Tuesday was named the MLS Honda Player of the Month for September. "It wasn't the prettiest game, but Edson got an unbelievable goal. We defended like a team and got the three points that we needed."
The Crew have consistently gotten the points they have needed this season, particularly in the second half of the campaign. The last time Columbus didn't come away from a match without at least a point was June 26, a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids. Columbus head coach Greg Andrulis attributed his team's success to a number of different factors.
"We've only been moving forward, that's been our thought process all year," said Andrulis after Wednesday's victory. "This team has always believed in itself, even after the slow start.
"We've got great leaders like Robin Fraser, Simon Elliott, Manny Lagos and Brian Maisonneuve who have kept everything in perspective for the guys. It's a long season and you don't win the trophy in March or April, you've got to do it through consistent play and the guys have certainly done that."
The Crew have had one goal in mind for much of the season - to win MLS Cup.
"When I got drafted our goal was to win as much hardware as possible," said Buddle, who is tied for the league lead in goals with 11. "When I play, I'm trying to win championships, that's why they brought me here."
The Columbus Crew have put themselves in a great position to win some hardware this season. They'll look to win the 2004 Supporter's Shield - awarded to the MLS team with the best regular-season record - before MLS Cup Playoffs begin on Oct. 23.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.