The late-game heroics in games between the New England Revolution and the MetroStars continued on Saturday night as the Revs avenged last weekend's loss to the Metros and secured a spot in the 2005 MLS Cup Playoffs with a 1-0 win at home on the strength of a James Riley goal five minutes before the final whistle.
The second-half substitute had cleared the ball off his own goal line just moments before stretching to get his foot on a ball Taylor Twellman had knocked down inside the six-yard box. The rookie recorded his first-ever professional goal with the game-winner that kept the Revs in the top spot in the East and severely dented the Metros' hopes for playoff action.
The Revolution surged forward from the opening kickoff, peppering Metros' goalkeeper Tony Meola with seven shots on target. New England midfielder Clint Dempsey and strikers Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan all had shots in the early going, but none that seriously troubled the visitors.
However, it was an unlikely source that provided the best scoring chance in the half, New England defensive midfielder Daniel Hernandez unleashing a 30-yard bomb 10 minutes before the intermission that Meola was thankful to see rebound off his goalpost and back into the field of play.
Metros striker Youri Djorkaeff was the hero for his side last week with the late game-winner and he will feel he should have done better with a half-chance in the 37th minute. An inviting cross floated to the loosely marked French veteran at the back post, but the World Cup champion failed to get enough power or direction on the shot to test Revolution 'keeper Matt Reis.
The action slowed somewhat after the restart as both sides struggled to create quality chances. Amado Guevara tried his luck from long range 10 minutes into the second half, but his effort sailed high over the crossbar.
Three minutes later the Metros had their best chance up to that point when Tim Ward made his way up the left flank and served up a cross to fellow youngster Eddie Gaven. The New Jersey native's header forced a sprawling save from Reis and Mike Magee was unable to tuck away the rebound before Reis could pounce on it.
With a quarter of an hour to play the Revolution might have had a case for a penalty kick after Dempsey and Jeff Agoos collided inside the Metros' penalty area. The hard challenge left Dempsey on the ground and Agoos adamant that the tackle was fair and referee Brian Hall seemed to agree as he waved play on.
Djorkaeff almost provided a replay of last week's finish when he rounded a defender at the endline and moved towards the goal in the waning moments of the game. His deflected cross squirmed behind Reis, but Riley was on hand to clear the danger.
Riley then popped up at the other end for yet another late decider in the season series between the teams. Pat Noonan worked his way free on the right flank, swinging a cross that Twellman headed down at the back post for Riley to swoop in and poke home from close range. All four matches between the teams this season have seen the game-tying or winning goal scored in the 85th minute or later.
Both teams will return to action next Saturday, with New England meeting the Western Conference-leading San Jose Earthquakes in an intriguing top-of-the-table clash, while the MetroStars meet D.C. United in an important Eastern Conference collision that could major playoff implications for both sides.
The Revolution became the first Eastern Conference club to guarantee a playoff spot with the win, joining the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy from the West.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: James Riley, New England Revolution
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.