There was a lot of buzz around Columbus as their MLS team prepared to host the first playoff game since 2011. The Columbus Crew came into the 2014 MLS Cup playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league, yet they matched up with the one team that was hotter and they felt the burn, falling 4-2 to the New England Revolution in the first of the two-leg Eastern Conference semifinal.
Throughout the week, the team discussed staying the course. They stated that their lack of playoff experience wouldn't be a factor. They believed opening the playoffs at home would be a good way to start a run.
They were wrong.
First-year head coach Gregg Berhalter discussed the little things in these games, believing they would be the difference in the series. Early in the game, the Black and Gold were nearly punished for doing a little thing wrong as goalkeeper Steve Clark played a short goal kick. It was stolen by New England and nearly finished by Charlie Davies.
After 17 minutes, the Revolution's MVP candidate Lee Nguyen dribbled through several Crew defenders and cut it back to Farrell. His shot was saved and the rebound eventually found Jones, who put it over the goal.
Columbus has their best chance of the opening half 29 minutes in when Justin Meram found himself with the ball and no one around inside the New England penalty box. His shot beat goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, but hit the underside of the crossbar and stayed out of the net.
Just five minutes later, New England made the Crew pay for their miss. After a free kick was awarded on the right side of the Columbus penalty area, Kelyn Rowe sent a dangerous ball into the box that Charlie Davies finished with his head after being left unmarked on the set piece.
The Revolution carried the lead into the halftime break, but quickly doubled their lead after the break on another set piece. This time, it was Chris Tierney with the left footed free kick, curling it over the wall and directly into the net.
After falling down by two, the Black and Gold began to get things going and it finally paid off in the 64th minute. Midfielder Wil Trapp attempted to play a square pass to Federico Higuain, but it was deflected inside the penalty area. Meram jumped on the ball and fired it home to cut the deficit in half.
New England did not flinch after conceding, scoring their third goal of the match through Nguyen. The attacking midfielder dribbled at the Columbus defense and was not closed down before he hit a shot back post that beat Clark.
The Crew continued to push, looking to decrease the lead once again, but this time it backfired. With numbers forward, the Revolution came on a counter attack and it was Davies who curled a shot around Clark for the 4-1 advantage.
It appeared to be game, set, and match after the fourth strike, but things were made a bit more interesting in stoppage time. Ethan Finlay attempted a cross near the end line, which hit the hand of New England defender Jose Goncalves. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and Higuain hit a chip shot that caught Shuttleworth off guard. 4-2.
Although that goal doesn't matter today, it might in the grand scheme of things. If Columbus can go to New England and have a good performance next week, they will now only need to win by three goals.
That game kicks off on Sunday at 5:00 PM on ESPN2.