COLUMBUS, Ohio — Needing a win to clinch their first playoff berth since 2009, the New England Revolution rode a Juan Agudelo first-half goal to a gritty 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew on Sunday afternoon at Crew Stadium.
It was the Revolution's second straight win over Columbus to close out the MLS regular season and the three points vaulted them to third place in the Eastern Conference (14-11-9, 51 pts.), setting up an Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup with Sporting Kansas City that kicks off next weekend.
Despite being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Crew (12-16-5, 41 pts.) used a similar lineup to their 3-2 loss in New England last Saturday, missing Designated Player Federico Higuain for the second straight week due to a hip injury. Meanwhile, Kevin Alston started his first game for the Revolution since August 10, filling in for left back Chris Tierney.
But it was the Crew who nearly found the back of the net first when a Dominic Oduro breakaway ended in a point-blank shot that was stopped by New England 'keeper Matt Reis just three minutes into the game.
The Revolution regrouped and went on to open the scoring in the 28th minute from a gorgeous give-and-go between Agudelo and Lee Nguyen.
Fullback Andrew Farrell found Agudelo on a long pass into the box, and the forward flipped his first touch to Nguyen as the midfielder ran toward goal. When Columbus 'keeper Andy Gruenebaum moved toward Nguyen, he cut a pass back to Agudelo, who was left with an easy left-footed finish to give New England the lead they would not relinquish.
The Crew spent much of the second half launching attacks at the bunkering New England defense, but the Columbus attack was largely toothless and unable to get a clean look in the Revolution's third.
Despite the Crew swapping a defender for a forward for much of the second half, New England's defense, marshalled by captain Jose Goncalves, was more than up to the task.
Tempers boiled over in the beginning of an eight-minute stoppage time period, and Oduro was punished with a straight red card for an off-the-ball kick from behind on Revs midfielder Kelyn Rowe.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Juan Agudelo||This is why they kept him from moving to Stoke in the summer. His moment of flair single-handedly put the Revs into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.|
|2||Jose Goncalves||The hearts of Revs fans sunk as fast as Goncalves was rubbing his right hamstring after just five minutes. But the captain was not about to bail on his team and he marshalled a perfect defensive effort.|
|3||Matt Reis||It was a defense-first kind of game for the Revs and their goalkeeper made sure to keep everything tidy, including making his biggest save of the match after just three minutes.|