The Columbus Crew scored late in both halves on Saturday night to secure a 2-1 victory on the road to the New England Revolution. Federico Higuain struck with a free kick in the 43rd minute, while Ethan Finlay provided a late winner. The goals, and some stout defending by goalkeeper Steve Clark, propelled the team to a second consecutive victory - and into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
While the Revolution entered the game with a seven-match losing streak, it was the home team who piled on pressure in the game's opening moments. New England took nine corner kicks in the first half hour, and finished the game with a franchise-high 15. Columbus was lucky not to concede through this stretch, relying on a reaction save by Steve Clark in the 11th minute to deny Teal Bunbury and some smart positioning by Giancarlo Gonzalez on the half hour to repel Diego Fagundez.
Higuain opened the scoring, his first goal since May, on a perfectly-taken free kick in the 43rd minute. Crew coach Gregg Berhalter was full of praise for his creative midfielder after the game.
"He needed that goal," said Berhalter in his post-game comments. " It was a fantastic free kick, on turf. To hit a ball like that is pretty special. He had a tough week last week with three games, and he played all the minutes in those games. It wasn't easy for him, and this was a great response."
As hard as the Crew worked to build a halftime lead, they saw it all undone minutes into the second half. The Revolution finally found the back of the net five minutes after halftime. A.J. Soares rose highest on the team's tenth corner kick, heading home at the near post to give the home team a foothold in the game.
Where the first half at times was a lopsided affair, however, the second provided more end-to-end action. Ethan Finlay struck the woodwork with a blast in the 56th minute that would have quickly restored the Columbus advantage, at the other end Steve Clark produced some highlight-reel saves on Lee Nguyen just after the hour mark.
As the game wound down, it was Columbus doing more of the attacking. Diego Fagundez made goal line stops on two consecutive corner kicks with fifteen minutes to play, but the Revs could not stop the inevitable. Moments after inserting Justin Meram and Eric Gehrig for the game's closing minutes, Meram threaded a pass for Ethan Finlay. Finlay pounced on a misstep from Darrius Barnes, and found himself alone facing Bobby Shuttleworth - a chance he duly dispatched, securing maximum points for the visitors.
That clinching goal was, unsurprisingly, singled out for comment by Berhalter after the game. "I felt like the goal was coming, and the goal itself was a fantastic move. We talked about it at halftime, the outside guy moving inside and getting behind the center backs. It was exactly what we talked about."
Berhalter also praised his team's improved closing ability as the biggest reason for their two-game winning streak.
"Look at the Portland game, we should have had three points out of that one. Look at the Toronto game, we should have gotten three points out of that one. These games, we've closed. The Montreal game, we came from behind and then had that last stretch where we had to grind it out, and we did it. This game was the same type of environment, and we did it. That's the difference right now."
What it means
The victory pushes the Crew into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. They are currently tied with Toronto for third place, holding a record of six wins, seven losses and eight ties. They have played at least one game more than all of the teams around them in the standings, however, which could haul them back to sixth if New York and New England win their games in hand.
Columbus travels to Chicago next weekend for a game against the rival Fire, followed by a three game home stand against Toronto, Los Angeles, and Houston.
Timeline of events
2' Corner kick, New England (left side - headed clear)
12' Corner kick, New England (left side - caught by Clark)
13' Corner kick, New England (right side - too long)
13' Corner kick, New England (left side - haded clear by Gonzalez)
15' Corner kick, New England (left side - headed clear by Bedell)
17' Corner kick, New England (right side - short, lost possession)
21' Darrius Barnes replaces Chris Tierney
21' Corner kick, New England (left side - headed out)
21' Corner kick, New England (left side - headed out)
22' Corner kick, New England (left side - headed clear)
40' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - headed clear)
41' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - headed clear)
41' Caution, Wil Trapp (unclear)
43' 1-0 Federico Higuain (unassisted)
50' Corner kick, New England (left side - goal)
50' 1-1 A.J. Soares (Kelyn Rowe)
52' Caution, Scott Caldwell (reckless tackle on Bernardo Anor)
58' Corner kick, New England (right side - headed out)
59' Corner kick, New England (left side - headed clear)
61' Corner kick, New England (right side - foul called)
65' Aaron Schoenfeld replaces Adam Bedell
65' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - shot cleared off the line)
67' Dimitry Imbongo replaces Patrick Mullins
73' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - headed shot by Tchani blocked on the line)
74' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - headed shot by Anor blocked at near post)
78' Corner kick, New England (right side - headed clear)
79' Corner kick, Columbus (left side - headed wide by Gonzalez)
81' Daigo Kobayashi replaces Teal Bunbury
83' Justin Meram replaces Bernardo Anor
83' Eric Gehrig replaces Chad Barson
83' Corner kick, New England (left side - cleared at near post)
84' 2-1 Ethan Finlay (Justin Meram)
90' Caution, Lee Nguyen (professional foul on Ethan Finlay)
90+ Corner kick, Columbus (left side - short, lost posession)
Steve Clark, Chad Barson (Eric Gehrig 83'), Giancarlo Gonzalez, Michael Parkhurst, Waylon Francis, Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain, Bernardo Anor (Justin Meram 83'), Adam Bedell (Aaron Schoenfeld 65')
Matt Lampson, Tyson Wahl, Kevan George, Ben Speas
New England Revolution
Bobby Shuttleworth, Andrew Farrell, Chris Tierney (Darrius Barnes 21'), A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury (Daigo Kobayashi 81'), Scott Caldwell, Patrick Mullins (Dimitry Imbongo 67')
Brad Knighton, Kevin Alston, Steve Neumann, Charlie Davies