If you go back and look, very few of the experts picked the Columbus Crew to make the MLS Playoffs in 2014. The Black and Gold were happy to exceed expectations but disappointed with how they performed once they reached the post season.
After dropping the opening leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal to the New England Revolution 4-2 at home, the Crew had it all to do in the second leg in Boston. The intent was to try and score early and the Revolution eventually took advantage, winning the second leg 3-1, as things fell apart for Columbus.
The game started out brightly for the Crew with two chances to grab that early goal in the opening five minutes. Winger Justin Meram got on the end of bouncing ball at the top of the penalty box three minutes in, but his half volley went wide. Two minutes later, midfielder Tony Tchani had two shots, but goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth saved his effort on goal.
Columbus forward Jairo Arrieta, who started the game for the injured Aaron Schoenfeld, had enough chances in the first half to turn the tide of the series himself. In the 34th minute, the ball fell to Arrieta in the box, but Shuttleworth made the stop from close range. Three minutes later, he got the ball in the box again but this time couldn't even get off a shot.
Two minutes before the halftime whistle, New England took advantage of the Crew's inability to clear the ball out of their own penalty area and took the lead and a stranglehold on the series. After a slew of chances, Teal Bunbury dropped a ball in for the onrushing Lee Nguyen inside the Columbus six-yard box. The MVP candidate didn't miss from close range, making it 1-0 and 5-2 on aggregate.
Arrieta had his best chance of the half shortly after his side went behind with a header from close range but Shuttleworth again came up big, making the save for his team.
The Revolution came out more aggressive to start the second half despite not needing to score again.
After the Black and Gold weathered several chances, they got burned on the counter attack to fall down by two. After a giveaway in the attacking third by the Crew, New England quickly came the other way through Nguyen. The midfielder found forward Charlie Davies who subsequently played it across the Columbus box for an easy finish for defender Jose Goncalves.
In the 61st minutes, things went from really bad to worse for the Crew as the wheels began to fall off in this game. Meram played a long through ball for Ethan Finlay, but Shuttleworth was quick off his line. As he tried to clear the goalkeeper, Finlay's trailing foot caught Shuttleworth and Finlay was issued a straight red card.
Despite playing with only 10 men, Columbus finally found the back of the net through Tchani, who headed home a Meram free kick to cut the deficit on the day to 2-1. It was the first goal of 2014 for the midfielder, as he tried to get his team back into the series.
The Revolution sealed the game in the 77th minute when second half substitute Daigo Kobayashi played a beautiful through ball for Bunbury. The converted forward finished with ease, giving his team the 3-1 lead.
Just to add insult to injury, the Crew went down to nine men in the 85th minute. Meram went in on a lazy tackle and came late, catching Kevin Alston late and was shown his second yellow card and was therefore ejected.
The season ends in very disappointing fashion for Columbus, but the team will likely look back on most of 2014 as a positive. This will be a learning experience for a young team that entered this series with very little playoff experience as they move forward under first-year head coach Gregg Berhalter.