COLUMBUS, Ohio — Eight months, 33 games, and several weeks of anxious scoreboard watching boiled down to one simple truth for the New England Revolution: Win, and they’re in.
After Houston won earlier Sunday, anything less than a win over the Columbus Crew in the regular-season finale would doom the Revolution to their fourth straight absence from the playoffs.
Juan Agudelo’s goal in the 28th minute held up and the Revolution capped a two-game season-ending sweep of the Crew with a 1-0 victory in front of 17,505 fans at Crew Stadium, sending the visitors to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
“It’s a credit to all our guys, because it wasn’t the prettiest game,” coach Jay Heaps said. “It showed a lot more heart than any game I’ve seen.”
New England (14-11-9) began the day sixth in the Eastern Conference standings but finished third with 51 points, earning the tiebreaker against the Dynamo based on goals scored. It survived the Crew holding possession for 67.8 percent of the match and a stunning eight minutes of stoppage time tacked onto the end.
With the win, the Revolution will play a two-game series with Sporting Kansas City for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. New England is 0-1-1 against Kansas City this season. The series will open at Gillette Stadium on Saturday and move to Kansas City for the second game Nov. 6 or 7.
Just like when the teams met last weekend at Gillette Stadium, the Revolution took the first-half lead. After the Crew held possession for much of the opening 20 minutes, a beautiful give-and-go inside the penalty area between Agudelo and Lee Nguyen produced Agudelo’s seventh goal since being acquired from Chivas USA on May 7.
Agudelo beat Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum — who was making his first start since July 27.
“We were working on that in training all the time,” Nguyen said. “We always play those short passes in drills. Jay and the staff try to make it a game situation as much as possible.”
From there, it was a matter of defending. Columbus (12-17-5) finished with a 11-5 advantage in shots, and a 7-2 edge in corner kicks, but failed to seriously test New England goalkeeper Matt Reis, who made four saves in recording his fifth shutout of the season.
“You’ve got to defend as well as attack and that’s what we did,” defender A.J. Soares said. “Today was a little more defending than we’re probably used to. We like to keep the ball and go forward, but some games that’s what you’ve got to do.’’
It was a far cry from last weekend’s 3-2 New England win, a game in which the Crew never led but tied the game twice.
“We knew they were going to be difficult to play against because they had our number a little bit last week,” Heaps said. “They outplayed us the second half and we were able to hang onto that one.”
The Crew went to three defenders in the 72d minute in an attempt to get the tying goal but went down a man as stoppage time dawned when leading scorer Dominic Oduro received a red card. It made weathering the stoppage time a little less dicey.
“I just went, ‘Eight minutes?’ to the ref,” Soares said. “It’s eight minutes, it’s five minutes, there’s no difference. We’ve just got to defend. I didn’t really think they were going to score anyway.”
Heaps said he was expecting no more than five minutes to be added.
“I think I got more gray hair,” he said. “It’s an interesting number. When eight [minutes] came up, we were a little bit taken aback, but it was only fitting because we’ve had everything stacked against us.”