The Columbus Crew were, finally, mathematically, eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday night after losing 3-2 on the road to the New England Revolution. Even that result was made irrelevant, however, after the Chicago Fire defeated Toronto 1-0 later in the evening - doubly insuring that Columbus would miss the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Needing a victory and favorable results elsewhere (and the same again next weekend) the team fielded an attacking - if injury-riddled - lineup in Foxboro. Federico Higuain was unable to play because of a hip contusion suffered against Kansas City. Tony Tchani deputized for the Argentine playmaker in midfield, with Bernardo Anor and Ethan Finlay on the flanks in front of Wil Trapp.
Columbus started with immediate pressure, producing a cross from the channel in the opening minute of play. In the sixth minute, Dominic Oduro ran onto a loose ball in the penalty area after Bernardo Anor was tackled by Jose Goncalves, but his shot was blocked.
The Revolution weathered the early storm, however, and won all of the corner kicks through the first half. The home team nearly took the lead in the 11th minute as Chris Tierney curled a free kick into the penalty area that Matt Lampson missed. The ensuing corner kick was also spilled by the former Ohio State goalkeeper, but Bernardo Anor was on the post to clear the danger.
New England scored first after half an hour. A.J. Soares got a glancing header to a Kelyn Rowe free kick, sending the ball just under the crossbar and past a flailing Lampson.
Trailing at the half, interim coach Brian Bliss sent on Aaron Schoenfeld at the break to replace Ethan Finlay. The change paid dividends almost immediately, as Schoenfeld was able to fill the need for a large target forward for the support runs of Arrieta and Oduro.
It was just this sort of sequence that produced the Crew's first goal in the 59th minute. Schoenfeld, with his back to goal in a crowd of defenders, received a pass from midfield and touched laterally to Dominic Oduro. Oduro took a controlling touch before blasting a shot over Matt Reis and into the roof of the net.
New England reclaimed their advantage ten minutes later after an ill-advised Tony Tchani tackle gifted the home team a penalty kick. Chris Tierney stepped to the spot and converted, shooting just past Lampson's outstretched hands.
The seesaw continued in the 72nd minute. Again it was Schoenfeld in the mix, this time with a goal of his own - his first as a professional. After Arrieta and Oduro were involved in the build up, Oduro poked the ball to Schoenfeld in tight space in the area. The second-year forward turned to his left and curled a delicate shot into the upper corner of the goal.
Columbus celebrations were short-lived, however. Moments after Arrieta and Oduro missed connections on a Crew attack, New England pressed the right side of the defense before passing across the goal for an unmarked Diego Fagundez at the back post.
The Crew had one last chance to equalize in the closing minutes, but Justin Meram's cross from the left end line was punched by Reis and Schoenfeld was unable to turn the loose ball on frame.
What it means
Columbus will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Even had the Crew won, the result would not have been enough, however, as Chicago's victory later on Saturday also would have eliminated the team. New England is still in the playoff hunt, but will need to defeat the Crew next weekend in Columbus and hope for favorable results of their own.
In franchise history, the Crew has only missed the postseason seven times in 18 years. Their longest drought was from 2005-07, spanning the tenures of Greg Andrulis and Sigi Schmid.
The Crew will play their final competitive game of 2013 next Sunday against New England.
Timeline of events
5' Corner kick, New England (left side - cleared)
12' Corner kick, New England (right side - punched and cleared)
31' Caution, Ethan Finlay (professional foul on Andy Dorman)
31' 0-1 A.J. Soares (Kelyn Rowe)
33' Corner kick, New England (right side - no shot)
34' Corner kick, New England (right side - caught)
45' Aaron Schoenfeld replaces Ethan Finlay
46' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - cleared)
47' Caution, Jerry Bengtson (unsportsmanlike conduct on Chad Barson)
59' 1-1 Dominic Oduro (Aaron Schoenfeld)
65' Dimitry Imbongo replaces Jerry Bengtson
69' Penalty kick, Andy Dorman tackled from behind by Tony Tchani
69' 1-2 Chris Tierney (penalty kick)
71' Ben Speas replaces Agustin Viana
72' 2-2 Aaron Schoenfeld (Dominic Oduro)
76' 2-3 Diego Fagundez (Andy Dorman, Dimitry Imbongo)
77' Kevin Alston replaces Chris Tierney
80' Justin Meram replaces Tony Tchani
80' Stephen McCarthy replaces Scott Caldwell
93+' Caution, Imbongo (professional foul on ?)
93+' Caution, Agudelo (time wasting)
Matt Lampson, Chad Barson, Chad Marshall, Tyson Wahl, Agustin Viana (Ben Speas 71'), Wil Trapp, Ethan Finlay (Aaron Schoenfeld 45'), Tony Tchani (Justin Meram 80'), Bernardo Anor, Dominic Oduro, Jairo Arrieta
Andy Gruenebaum, Josh Williams, Danny O'Rourke, Ryan Finley
New England Revolution
Matt Reis, Andrew Farrell, A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney (Kevin Alston 77'), Scott Caldwell (Stephen McCarthy 80'), Juan Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe, Andy Dorman, Diego Fagundez, Jerry Bengtson (Dimitry Imbongo 65')
Bobby Shuttleworth, Clyde Simms, Charlie Davies, Chad Barrett