New England advances to Eastern Conference final with victory over Columbus
New England will meet New York in the Eastern Conference final after a professional 3-1 victory over nine-man Columbus at Gillette Stadium.
The home side entered the second leg with a commanding 4-2 lead from the first encounter at Crew Stadium last Saturday. Lee Nguyen dashed any realistic Crew hopes of an improbable comeback with his opener before the break. José Gonçalves doubled the advantage by bundling home a Charlie Davies’ square pass inside the opening 10 minutes of the second half to settler matters.
Crew winger Ethan Finlay exacerbated the difficult night by procuring a straight red card for a challenge on Bobby Shuttleworth just after the hour. Tony Tchani headed home a response after 69 minutes, but Teal Bunbury thrashed home in the final quarter of an hour to seal a 7-3 triumph on aggregate.
The final score reflected the overall balance in a tie where the Revs exploited the Crew consistently on the break and took their chances well. Columbus enjoyed the better of the first half, but its lack of sharpness in the final third – particularly without the sidelined Federico Higuain – ultimately undermined any bid to produce a staggering second-leg revival act.
Both teams fumbled a bit for their footing in the early stages. Columbus accepted the burden of carrying the play in possession, but the absence of Higuain limited its ability to conjure openings through the lines. It led to few opportunities in the opening stages, though Bobby Shuttleworth rushed out well to block Jairo Arrieta after 35 minutes.
The intervention proved timely as the Revs took the lead two minutes before the break. Bunbury did most of the heavy lifting as he collected along the end line and froze the Crew. Nguyen dashed into the space through the static defense and turned home Bunbury’s clever ball to ease any lingering nerves.
Shuttleworth somehow repelled Arrieta from close range on the stroke of halftime to protected the advantage at the interval. His stop proved crucial as the Revs stormed out after the break and underscored their superiority in the tie by grabbing the second 10 minutes into the second half.
The break captured the dynamic of this affair neatly: Columbus committed numbers forward and New England punished them when the move broke down. Davies proceeded up the right side with the Crew exposed and slotted the ball across into Gonçalves’ impeccably timed run to stay onside. Gonçalves made just enough contact to slot inside the near post to double the Revolution advantage on the night and erase any doubt about the final outcome.
The night continued to spiral out of control for the Crew shortly after the hour when Finlay received a straight red card for catching Shuttleworth in the head with his shin. Replays showed little intent in the collision, but the resulting spark between the sides prompted the drastic action to settle the match down.
Columbus clawed a goal back with a wonderfully worked set piece in the 69th minute. Meram clipped a delicate ball toward the back post. Tchani drifted away from his marker, met the ball with his head and steered it back across Shuttleworth to give the Crew at least some reward for their toil on the evening.
Bunbury guaranteed the Revs’ superiority on the night when he struck the third inside the final quarter of an hour. Meram trudged off in the late stages after landing a second yellow card for a late challenge to compound the Crew’s misery and guarantee safe passage for the Revs into the Eastern Conference final.