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Crew end Revolution’s season with 1-0 victory in Eastern Conference final

The platform belongs to the Columbus Crew after they beat the Revolution, 1-0, to claim the Eastern Conference trophy in Columbus.Emilee Chinn/Getty

The playoff magic Bruce Arena seemed to bring to the Revolution wore off as they were eliminated by the Columbus Crew, 1-0, in the Eastern Conference final Sunday.

The Revolution’s three-game post-season winning streak was snapped as Brazilian midfielder Artur scored in the 59th minute and the Crew’s defense limited the threats of Gustavo Bou, Adam Buksa, and Carles Gil.

The Crew, who will meet either Minnesota United or the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final next Saturday, produced most of the first-half chances, but after taking the lead, retreated into defense.

On the deciding sequence, the Revolution struggled to clear a corner kick after Matt Turner saved on Gyasi Zardes. Crew center back Jonathan Mensah remained forward, providing a target for Lucas Zelarayan’s cross. Mensah then laid off for Artur to left-foot just inside the right post from the edge of the penalty area.


The Revolution, whose best opportunity was a Buksa shot off the post in the 28th minute, threatened late, as Bou had three close-in shots. The match ended with the Revolution on the offensive. Midfielder Matt Polster had the final chance, but sent goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell’s clearance directly at Tarbell, who had deserted the goal area to punch away Gil’s free kick, just before Armando Villarreal’s final whistle.

Arena’s record in conference finals fell to 10-5-0; the Revolution have advanced to MLS Cup in five of their eight trips. The Revolution lost to the Crew in the playoffs (4-1-3) for the first time and have not won at Columbus since 2014. The Crew, missing seven players because of coronavirus, improved their home record to 12-1-0 this year.

“On the day Columbus was the better team, I think,” said Arena, in his second year as Revolution coach. “I think they deserved to win the game. Give them credit for the goal they created. Just better at anticipating chances than we were. I thought on the day, in the middle third of the field, they were good. Not that they did anything that goes into highlight reels, but they won tackles, they anticipated plays, and they were a little bit sharper in the middle of the field. They did a good job paying attention to Carles and Tajon [Buchanan], and they neutralized us in those positions.”


Other observations from Sunday’s game.

▪ Arena indicated the Revolution’s investment in players has only just begun. “We’re looking to bring in two or three players that can solidify our first 11,” Arena said. The Revolution did not make a significant player purchase until last year, and has paid $13.7 million on transfer fees to bring in Gil, Bou, and Buksa, Those prices are small change in the global scheme of soccer, but they have paid dividends in transforming the Revolution. “We’ve come a long way, but I think you know as well as I do that Bruce is not happy with losing, he loves to win,” defender Andrew Farrell said. “You can tell his winning mentality has been contagious within the organization. And the Krafts also love to win. This is obviously a great run and we’re happy we made it this far but Bruce isn’t here to lose in the Eastern Conference finals, he’s here to win Cups.”

▪ Bou and Buksa put the Crew back line under pressure, though they failed to convert. Bou has scored decisive goals with greater degrees of difficulty than the close-in attempts he had late in this game. Bou miskicked an 82nd-minute layoff from Buksa, and his added-time tries were blocked, the second after a tight-space touch from Gil. Buksa displayed an effective combination of skill and strength, twice beating Mensah and running unmarked into the penalty area. But Buksa might have made the wrong choice when he shot from a tight angle, instead of crossing for Bou at the back post, in the 28th minute. Buksa again went past the defense and had his shot saved by Tarbell for a corner in the 56th minute. On the corner kick, Buksa went down in a clash with Mensah, Villarreal allowing play to continue.


▪ Artur’s conversion left Turner little chance for a save, but the goal might have been prevented in the build-up. Zelarayan could have been forced to his right, but instead was allowed to easily get off the cross left-footed. Then, Buchanan was caught off guard, leaving Mensah alone on the far side of the penalty area. Asked if anything could have been done to prevent the goal, Turner said, “There always is. Goals are a comedy of errors. Anytime somebody scores you can track back to four or five things going wrong. It was a great finish so you tip your cap, but at the same time we cleared a set piece, didn’t get close enough to the ball, and they crossed it. Ball-watching, lay-off, nobody’s there to block a shot, and a really great finish. Credit to Artur, he put it in the bottom corner. I thought I read it well, I thought I saw it well but at the end of the day I couldn’t get there.”


▪ Arena’s second-half substitutions helped the Revolution regain momentum. First, Brandon Bye entered at right back, Buchanan switching to the left wing. Less than 10 minutes later, the Revolution added Tommy McNamara and Kelyn Rowe to the midfield. Finally, Justin Rennicks replaced DeJuan Jones in the 85th minute. By then, the Revolution were throwing everything they had into the attack, but narrowly failed to equalize. Arena might have made the moves earlier, but would not have needed to, had the Revolution defended more alertly and prevented the Crew goal.

▪ The result means the MLS Cup final will be played on a grass field at MAPFRE Stadium, which allowed 1,500 spectators for Sunday’s match. A Revolution victory would have meant the league’s showcase game would have been staged on artificial turf in Seattle or on a hybrid surface in the snow in Minneapolis.

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at frankdellapa@gmail.com.