New England Revolution manager Steve Nicol had Trinidad & Tobago international defender Avery John to thank for a 1-0 victory against the Columbus Crew in the opening match of MLS Cup Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
It was John's brilliant strike from 25 yards that sealed the victory for Nicol's side after 25 minutes. A swerving ball off his left foot, John blasted his effort past the hopeless Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch to seal the only goal of the game and ensure that the Revolution would enter Crew Stadium next Sunday with a slender one goal advantage.
"I knew it was going in all the way," joked Nicol. "Avery's actually put a few in during practice. He'll take it if they let him. He was as surprised as we were."
"It's a nice feeling," said John. "It's not a shock. I was getting it on target in practice. There was a big hole in the middle. Rallie [Steve Ralston] got it on the right and played it to me. I thought about taking a pop from 40 yards, but no one closed me down, so I dribbled forward another five or 10 yards. I had a pop on goal, and in it went."
There were chances for the Revolution to extend their lead in the second half, most notably in the 84th minute, when Taylor Twellman pushed his open header wide of the near post from six yards. Pat Noonan also did well to create a chance in the 88th minute, but his shot was put just wide of the far post.
Nicol contends that it was not a disappointment to grab a bigger cushion for the return leg in eight days time.
"It wasn't disappointing," said Nicol. "There was never going to be a lot of goals. There's not too much between the teams."
The former Liverpool defender saw the match as a tale of two halves, despite limiting the Crew to one real chance during the 90 minutes, a Kyle Martino drive from 18 yards that was denied in the lower left corner by Revolution keeper Matt Reis.
"In the first half, we were delighted," said Nicol. "We created chances and we reduced them to scraps. In the second half, we didn't start well. We had bad shape. They needed to start well, and we were the opposite of what we were in the first half."
Columbus coach Greg Andrulis saw his team lose for the first time in MLS competition in 19 games, reeling off a league record unbeaten streak after a loss on June 26 to the Colorado Rapids.
"It was a hard game for both teams. At the end of the day it took a shot of 30 yards or so to beat us," Andrulis said. "You don't expect a center back to hit a shot like that. You clearly need to close them down earlier if you can."
Crew assistant coach John Murphy -- an assistant with the Revolution a year ago -- was complimentary of the home side.
"New England gave us a good lesson in one- and two-touch passing tonight," said Murphy. "We have plenty of fight left in us."
Kyle McCarthy is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.