The New England Revolution easily qualified for the MLS Eastern Conference final, beating Columbus Crew 3-1 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday to advance 7-3 on aggregate.
The Revolution will face the New York City Red Bulls, who knocked out DC United on Saturday.
Fans expecting New England to just sit back and defend their lead were quickly reminded that simply isn't their style, with Kelyn Rowe taking a shot on goal within 30 seconds of the opening whistle.
Needing at least three goals to advance to the Eastern Conference final, Columbus predictably committed men forward in an attempt to score an early goal. With Federico Higuain not playing, the onus fell on the creative midfielders to make the difference, with Justin Meram looking lively early.
New England quickly took control of the midfield proceedings, however, and Jermaine Jones in particular seemed to be in excellent form. While possession remained with the Crew, there were no openings to be found early.
Inside MLS saw the same thing:
Columbus had their first chance after a deflected shot fell into the path of Jairo Arrieta, who was beaten to the ball by Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, knocking it into Arrieta and out of play.
Lee Nguyen was unusually quiet, with Jones seeing most of the ball in the centre of the pitch for the hosts. Columbus continued attacking with numbers, but lots of sloppy passing and touches saw most possessions in interesting territory go to waste.
Nguyen started growing into the match, impacting the midfield with minimal touches. Goal's Ives Galarcep is happy the potential MVP has finally been called up to the national team:
Arrieta had a fantastic chance to open the score for the visitors, reacting to a cross that caught the defenders by surprise. The forward turned and shot without looking at the goal, and Shuttleworth was able to fling his body to the floor fast enough to punch the ball away.
MLS analyst Matthew Doyle thought Arrieta should have done better with the chance:
Columbus then upped the tempo, and Arrieta had another opportunity minutes later, scuffing his shot from six yards out. The Crew were desperate for a goal in the final minutes of the first half, and as is so often the case, the score fell on the other end of the pitch.
A swift counter move saw Steve Clark leave his line and almost miss the ball. In the confusion that followed, the ball was fired in to Nguyen, who put it in the back of the net with a great first-time finish.
Sport Illustrated's Grant Wahl was sure that was the end of the tie:
A dreadful defensive miscue should have made it 2-0 minutes later, but Charlie Davies inexplicably fired his shot straight at Clark, with the rest of the goal wide open.
Arrieta was once again denied by Shuttleworth in stoppage time before the official called for half-time. That final save was perhaps his best of all, via the league's official Twitter feed:
Columbus crumbled early in the second half, leading to several good chances for the hosts. Teal Bunbury and Nguyen both could have made it 2-0 inside the first five minutes, as this match was as good as over.
The goal eventually came just minutes later. Another quick counter saw Nguyen service Jose Goncalves beautifully, and the forward's odd touch had just enough to squeeze between the post and Clark.
Matthew Doyle was impressed with how the attacker kept himself onside:
The hosts' celebrations were interrupted when Shuttleworth remained motionless on the pitch after unintentional contact with Ethan Finlay. Both teams calmed down after some shoving, and the stopper eventually got up and was able to continue.
The official decided Finlay's contact was no accident, however, showing the young forward the straight red card. KICKTV did not agree whatsoever:
The card brought some bite back to the Crew, and Tony Tchani finally got the visitors on the board with a header in the 69th minute.
Former Revolution star Michael Parkhurst was involved in a clash with Davies, resulting in the Columbus defender's leg bending in an awkward direction. The crowd held its breath, but the former hometown favourite was able to make it off the pitch on his own strength.
Jay Heaps started taking off some of his top players with an eye on the Eastern Conference final and the pace of the match dropped drastically, the hosts happy to just play out the remaining minutes.
Bunbury added a goal of his own, with the Revolution moving up to a monstrous 7-3 lead on aggregate. Columbus lost a second player to a red card after Meram stepped on Kevin Alston's ankle, meaning the Crew will have two players suspended for the season opener.
With a two-man advantage, the Revolution easily held on for the win, as shared by the club's official Twitter feed:
Captain and scorer Goncalves thanked the fans for their fantastic support:
New England will travel to the Red Bulls Arena for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final on Sunday, November 23. While their opponents lost on Saturday, the Revolution will go into the tie coming off back-to-back thrashings of the Crew, playing organised and focused defence and opportunistic offence.
Nguyen keeps adding to his MVP credentials, and with the relentless Jones playing alongside him, the visitors will have the dynamic movement in midfield to keep the ball away from Red Bulls' prolific strikers.