Led by four goals from Edson Buddle, the Columbus Crew emphatically became the first team to book their ticket for the MLS Cup Playoffs, twice coming back from one-goal deficits in a 4-2 victory against the MetroStars in a wild Week 25 of the 2004 Major League Soccer season.
A total of 20 goals were scored across the five matches on Saturday night, with four separate players hitting for pairs along with Buddle's quartet in Columbus. There was a record-setting performance as the New England Revolution hammered the Colorado Rapids 6-1 at home, while the Kansas City Wizards reclaimed top spot in the Western Conference and in the race for the Supporters Shield with a 1-0 home victory against the San Jose Earthquakes.
But beyond the Crew's clinching of a postseason berth, if anything, the remaining races simply got tighter, D.C. United solidifying their hold on third place in the East with a dominant 3-1 victory against the Chicago Fire, while the Dallas Burn pulled back into a playoff place with a 2-0 home victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
At Crew Stadium, Buddle became the sixth player in MLS history to hit for at least four goals in a game (the eighth time the feat has been achieved) as Columbus opened up a four-point bulge atop the Eastern Conference in extending their unbeaten run to 13 games, the second-longest in league annals.
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 Metros rearguard by Ross Paule to race in alone on goal.
Then after the slightest of flicks, Eddie Gaven turned home an Amado Guevara free kick from the right corner in the 49th minute. But 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 Metros 'keeper Jonny Walker, then nine minutes later Buddle finished with aplomb after Cunningham's angled pass split the visitors defense.
At Arrowhead Stadium, the Wizards returned to the top of the West and MLS overall table as the defending MLS champion Earthquakes once again fell out of the playoff-paying places.
Diego Gutierrez scored a remarkable goal seven minutes from time for the match-winner. He started the play with a pass from well inside his own half, finding Davy Arnaud on the left touchline, who weaved his way forward before sliding a small square pass inside the restraining arc that Gutierrez sidefooted home past Quakes 'keeper Pat Onstad and off the inside of his left-hand post.
The Wizards were saved in the first half in a wild sequence that saw Kerry Zavagnin twice clear balls off the line in short order from Troy Dayak, first turning aside his sharp downward header on a corner, then parrying the rebound stabbed goalward.
At Gillette Stadium, the Revolution pulled themselves right back into the thick of the Eastern Conference dogfight with a club-record six goals in their drubbing of the Rapids, the league's best defensive club coming into the match having allowed less than a goal per game.
Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan each hit for two goals for the Rev, just the second time in league history one team has had three players hit for a brace in the same contest (Los Angeles vs. Colorado, May 6, 1998).
Amazingly, it was the Rapids who took the lead after 17 minutes, Jean-Philippe Peguero holding off a Revolution defender while running under a long lofted ball, eventually rounding 'keeper Matt Reis.
But the home side struck for four goals in 14 minutes, the first time they've ever hit for four goals in a half. Ralston started it off on 27 minutes, playing a nifty 1-2 on the edge of the box before hammering a drive off the foot of the post, then tapping in his own rebound. A minute later, Twellman intercepted a poor pass and cut across the top of the area before beating Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon's dive.
Ralston then doubled the lead in the 36th minute when he converted from the penalty spot after Pablo Mastroeni was adjudged to have batted down a Noonan cross. Noonan himself then finished off the blitz after Ralston had done all the work with a slashing run on the left flank before pulling the ball back for the unmarked striker in the heart of the box.
Noonan completed his double nine minutes after the break when he blasted home a volley on the turn from a Brian Kamler cross, then Twellman finished off the six-pack with his second, sliding a shot home from close range after Felix Brillant's persistance set up the chance.
At RFK Stadium, D.C. United scored three goals in the first half as they won consecutive games for the first time all season, overwhelming a Fire side that is now also fighting for playoff survival.
Christian Gomez scored his first MLS goal, finishing off a wonderful flowing movement with a curling shot over Henry Ring to give United the lead on eight minutes, then Alecko Eskandarian doubled it when he blazed home an angled shot after a 1-2 on a corner kick (20), the first time in more than two seasons United has scored on a corner.
The lead could have been even bigger, but Ring turned aside a Jaime Moreno penalty in the 28th minute, but Moreno still played provider for the third time on the night (and sixth United goal in succession) when he put Ben Olsen through on the left, Olsen's sharply-angled effort after rounding Ring just helped over the line by Fire defender C.J. Brown (40).
The Fire then grabbed a late consolation effort in second-half stoppage time as Andy Williams converted from the penalty spot after Mike Petke was ruled to have handled a strange deflection in a somewhat dubious decision.
At the Cotton Bowl, Eddie Johnson also struck for two goals before the halftime break as the Burn pulled back ahead of the Earthquakes in the West, the Galaxy still with just one win in four games under new coach Steve Sampson.
Johnson took advantage of a dreadful mistake in the 11th minute, stripping Galaxy 'keeper Kevin Hartman of the ball in the penalty area after he failed to deal with a long back pass.
Johnson then doubled his pleasure five minutes before the break, pounding a rebound into an empty goal after Hartman had turned aside a Jason Kreis shot on the turn from inside the area.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.