The Columbus Crew clinched home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a scrappy 1-0 victory against D.C. United on Saturday evening in front of a packed Columbus Crew Stadium. The win pushes Columbus 10 points in front of third-place D.C., who only have three games left, while the Crew also stayed on the heels of Kansas City by the closest of margins in the race for the MLS Supporters Shield.
The lone goal came from the head of Tony Sanneh in the 10th minute from a free kick by Simon Elliott, something the Crew's new addition attributed the club's training regimen.
"I think we just practiced it yesterday or the day before so it was just something that we went over and executed well," Sanneh said.
United captain Ryan Nelsen, later sent off for two yellow cards, thought the Crew had one nice play, but it came against the run of play.
"Tony (Sanneh) got good position between a couple of our guys at the near post. That was a good set piece," said Nelsen. "But in the first half, we were by far the better team. We had more shots and by far more possession of the ball."
United did nearly equalize 10 minutes before the break, but Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch provided an acrobatic save to preserve the clean sheet. Alecko Eskandarian volleyed a cross that was sure to find the net except Busch dove to his right to push aside the shot in midair at full stretch.
"Alecko got it, but not all of it. It was dipping and bending," Busch said. "I was fortunate to get a hand to it and knock it way."
Columbus coach Greg Andrulis praised the ability of his 'keeper to make a great save that kept his team in the match.
"That save in the first half is as good as it gets this season. It was certainly a highlight-reel type of situation," said the Crew coach. "That ball was dead to the right, upper 90. It was a terrific save. It was great that he is capable of doing that. He hasn't been called on to make that kind of save in a long time."
Although the Crew won for the fourth consecutive game and extended their unbeaten run to 14 matches, Andrulis didn't think his team's play was as good as last week, a 4-2 win against the MetroStars.
"We had some trouble moving the ball and we lost our shape too easily. We gave them some space," said Andrulis. "I thought we tried to play too many situations where we lingered on the ball."
Still, Sanneh was pleased the Crew had the ability to take all three points despite not playing at their potential.
"To play not your best or miss chances and still win is a great feeling," said Sanneh. "Obviously, we know we have to improve on stuff, but we are starting to get a championship mentality."
Said Andrulis: "I think through the course of the season, you have games that aren't your best. We have to continue to try to get better, battle, and get ready for the playoffs. This team hasn't talked about the streak."
Busch had the final word on a night when he posted a ninth clean sheet on the season: "We got three points again tonight. It wasn't pretty. I was under a little bit too much pressure. I don't want to over-analyze because we got three points."
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.