An Edson Buddle goal sent the Columbus Crew into the Major League Soccer record books and clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the MLS Cup Playoffs, as they extended their unbeaten streak to 16 games with a 1-0 victory against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night at Soldier Field.
Buddle's goal came just before the hour mark, when he hammered home a free kick from just outside the penalty area, made the Fire's playoff aspirations even more precarious.
The Crew last lost a league game on June 26, a 2-1 defeat by the Colorado Rapids, and their unbeaten streak was already the longest contained in a single season. But Wednesday's victory put them alone in the MLS records with the longest-ever unbeaten run, surpassing the 15-game streak reeled off by the Los Angeles Galaxy over the end of the 1997 season and start of the '98 campaign.
The Crew were missing stalwarts Tony Sanneh and Frankie Hejduk, called into the U.S. national team by manager Bruce Arena for the weekend's upcoming World Cup qualifier against El Salvador.
Columbus had two early chances, but were denied on outstanding saves by Fire goalkeeper Henry Ring. In the 11th minute Crew forward Jeff Cunningham got behind the left side of the Chicago defense and broke in alone on Ring, who made a beautiful right-handed save on a low drive destined for the left corner of the Fire goal.
Then six minutes later Columbus midfielder Chris Wingert made a nifty run toward the goal from the left corner flag area and unleashed a low drive at the near post that Ring also managed to parry with his right hand.
With usual wide midfielders Kelly Gray and Alexandre Boucicaut as the strike pair, Chicago struggled at first, but did eventually settle. The best Fire opportunity came in the 33rd minute when midfielder Chris Capano caught the woodwork from outside the area with a strong right-footed blast. Crew 'keeper Jon Busch also made a pair of diving saves in the final five minutes before the break.
The match opened up in the second half, the Crew hitting for the game's only goal in the 59th minute. After Chicago defender Evan Whitfield pulled down Cunningham just outside the area, Simon Elliott put the free kick into motion with a quick inside touch.
Buddle came on to hit a beautiful first-time curling strike that bent away from Ring as it settled inside his left-hand post over his outstretched arms. It was Buddle's 11th goal of the season, pulling him into a six-way tie for the Golden Boot as the league's leading goalscorer.
Over the final half-hour, both teams tried in vain to produce more goals, yet were lacking the necessary final touches to greatly trouble either goalkeeper.
The defeat left the Fire still three points ahead of the New England Revolution in fourth place, but their playoff position is not yet guaranteed. While they still control their own destiny, it is becoming more likely that their fate will be determined in the season finale on Oct. 16 when they play the Revolution in New England.
The Crew remain on the road this weekend, when they travel to Giants Stadium to face the MetroStars (7:30 p.m. ET), and while the Fire aren't involved with league play this weekend, they will face the MetroStars in the Hall of Fame Game in Oneonta, N.Y., on Oct. 11.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Edson Buddle (Columbus Crew)
Columbus Crew (12-5-11) vs. Chicago Fire (8-12-9)
October 06, 2004 -- Soldier Field
CLB -- Edson Buddle 11 (Simon Elliott 10) 59
Columbus Crew -- Jon Busch, Nelson Akwari, Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall, Duncan Oughton, Simon Elliott, Kyle Martino (Brian Maisonneuve 89), Danny Szetela, Chris Wingert, Jeff Cunningham (Manny Lagos 68), Edson Buddle (David Testo 81).
Substitutes Not Used: Eric Denton, Matt Jordan.
TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Edson Buddle 2, Simon Elliott 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Edson Buddle 2); FOULS: 12 (Chad Marshall 3); OFFSIDES: 3 (3 tied with 1); CORNER KICKS: 6 (Simon Elliott 5); SAVES: 3 (Jon Busch 3)
Chicago Fire -- Henry Ring, Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin, Leonard Griffin (Chris Carrieri 56), C.J. Brown, Scott Buete, Craig Capano (Denny Clanton 89), Jesse Marsch, Orlando Perez (Sumed Ibrahim 76), Alexandre Boucicaut, Kelly Gray.
Substitutes Not Used: D.J. Countess.
TOTAL SHOTS: 9 (3 tied with 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (3 tied with 1); FOULS: 18 (Jesse Marsch 6); OFFSIDES: 3 (3 tied with 1); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Scott Buete 2); SAVES: 4 (Henry Ring 4)
CHI -- Scott Buete (caution; Reckless Foul) 90
Referee: Terry Vaughn
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry; Bill Dittmar
4th Official: Abiodun Okulaja
Time of Game: 1:51
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.