Jeff Larentowicz scored in the 79th minute to secure a playoff spot for the New England Revolution with a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Sunday night.
The victory in the final game of the MLS regular season gave New England (11-10-9) 42 points and a playoff berth at the expense of the Colorado Rapids, who fell from the ranks of the eight teams to qualify.
Larentowicz’s first goal of the season came on a free kick from 20 yards. The midfielder bent his right-footed shot around the Crew defensive wall and past goalkeeper Kenny Schoeni.
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“Fantastic free kick,” said New England coach Steve Nicol of the shot that launched his side into the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season.
“To come here on the last game of the season and needing points was never going to be easy,” Nicol said. “To get into the playoffs is huge.”
New England will face the Chicago Fire, against whom it tied two matches in the regular season.
Columbus (13-7-10) already had secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as well as the 2009 Supporters’ Shield, given to the team with the best regular-season record. The Crew joined D.C. United as the only teams to win the Supporters’ Shield in consecutive seasons.
Representatives from Columbus supporters’ groups handed the shield to Crew captain Frankie Hejduk in a ceremony after the game.
However, the loss was the Crew‘s second straight at home after a league-record 24-game unbeaten streak at Crew Stadium. Four of the Crew‘s seven losses this season have come in their last eight games.
Crew coach Robert Warzycha said the recent losses did not have him concerned entering the postseason.
“It’s not that we played bad in those games,” Warzycha said. “Sometimes it’s just tough to score a goal, especially at the end of the season when teams feel they have to play harder.”
Columbus, which has scored only one goal in its last four games, will face Real Salt Lake in the first round of the playoffs. The teams faced each other twice this season, each winning on its own turf.
Schoeni made his best save of the night to prevent an own goal in the seventh minute. Crew midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo’s attempt to clear a Revolution pass sent the ball zipping toward the Crew goal from close range, forcing Schoeni to dive to his left to keep the ball out of the net.
Schoeni was placed in the starting lineup just minutes before kickoff in place of regular starter William Hesmer, who said he has been battling the flu since last Friday.
“We know what the next four games are all about,” said Hesmer, who was in goal for the Crew during its MLS Cup-winning run last year.
Larentowicz tested Schoeni with a laser-like, low strike from 22 yards in the 28th minute, but Schoeni was able to gather it into his midsection.