Last-gasp Revolution grab postseason invite
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Major League Soccer’s regular season lasted 221 days and is composed of 225 games. On the last day, in the last game, the Revolution found resolution.
New England clinched a playoff berth with a 1-0 victory yesterday over the Columbus Crew, the defending MLS Cup champions, at Crew Stadium. Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz’s first goal of the season, off a free kick in the 79th minute, punched the ticket.
The Revolution will face the Chicago Fire in a two-game, home-and-home series that begins Saturday at 4 p.m. at Gillette Stadium. The second game is Nov. 7 in Chicago at 8:30 p.m. It marks the fifth straight season that New England has met Chicago in the MLS postseason.
“To come here on the last day of the season needing points, it was never going to be easy,’’ Revolution coach Steve Nichol said. “If we had played well, that would have been better. But who cares? We needed to win, and we won.’’
Saturday night, four games affected the Revolution’s playoff chances. The results were good - for the Revolution, anyway. They awoke yesterday knowing that a win or tie would get them to the playoffs for the eighth season in a row.
As for the Crew, their players and coaches were going to celebrate no matter what happened last night. They already had clinched their second consecutive Supporters’ Shield, which goes to the team with the best regular-season record. With the Shield comes home-field advantage through the semifinal round of the playoffs.
Thus the question: Would the Crew play to win or merely to avoid injury? Coach Robert Warzycha maintained that the game was important for his team, its fans, and the respectability of the league. Warzycha began the game with his top goalkeeper, William Hesmer (flu), on the bench. There were a couple of other wrinkles, but not enough to incubate a conspiracy theory. Warzycha, by and large, put a credible lineup on the field.
The first half was scoreless. The Revolution had the better chances early, while the Crew opened things up with end-run attacks late.
In the seventh minute, off a corner kick, Revolution forward Edgaras Jankauskas had a point-blank shot foiled by keeper Kenny Schoeni. In the 28th minute, Larentowicz sent a low shot through traffic from 25 yards out, but Shoeni was well-positioned to make the stop. In the 38th minute, midfielder Shalrie Joseph floated a crafty shot over the traffic in front - but the ball sailed just long and fell onto the top of the net.
Forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto took the Crew’s last three shots of the half. He was dialed in on a header in the 45th minute, but Matt Reis managed a diving save beside the short-side post.
For most of the second half, the Crew dominated. And then . . .
“Fantastic free kick,’’ Nichol said.
In the 79th minute, Crew midfielder Brian Carroll was cited for a handball in an area just beyond the penalty box. The Crew set up a wall. Larentowicz took the kick. He bent a right-footed shot around the wall, over the diving Shoeni, and into the back of the net. It stopped the Revolution’s scoreless streak at 320 minutes, longest in franchise history.
“All year I’ve been waiting for that,’’ Larentowicz said, half-joking.
“After that goal, we were able to exhale a little bit,’’ he said. “For about four weeks we had our own destiny in our hands. Flying out here, we were talking about how we needed this and that to happen - and it seemed so far-fetched. I was just happy to get that last chance.’’