It was billed Decision Day by Major League Soccer and Columbus Crew SC decided.
Decisively pummeling D.C. United into submission by a final tally of 5-0 Sunday, Columbus earned every bit of its second-place finish in the Eastern Conference standings as the regular season came to a close.
After a compelling first half, where Crew SC was dominant but only scored once, the second half produced a torrent of chances and clinical conversions to break the game wide open. Crew SC took over what was a tight, one-goal affair at the half and turned it into a devastating goal barrage that finds the offense at peak performance as the playoffs begin.
Jack McInerney, who filling in for Kei Kamara brilliantly, struck first blood in the 25th minute by driving home a Mohamed Saied through pass. Saied picked up a United mistake and quickly turned it into a chance. McInerney fired past goalkeeper Bill Hamid, rang the left post, and tallied the opener.
The match had felt largely equal until that point, with both teams wanting and working for that first goal. Both sides operated at breakneck pace, pushing forward and testing the opposing goalkeeper.
United were lucky not to be already down. Hamid had already leapt acrobatically to repel a McInerney shot with his body. Steve Clark preserved the first half lead with Save of the Year worthy work in the 35th minute. Fabian Espindola's shot was clipped and forced Clark into a backpedaling swat off the line, punching it inches over the crossbar.
McInerney scoring one minute after Hamid's huge save, however, encapsulates the overarching story arc that played out at MAPFRE Stadium: Columbus kept pushing for more relentlessly even as D.C. tried to put up a fight.
D.C. United captured some of that momentum just after the Clark save with Saied forced to leave due to a hamstring strain. The visitors attacked the unsteady defense as sub Kevan George found his feet.
The team would hold on until halftime and then opened the floodgates. Left wing Justin Meram found the back of the net next fewer than 10 minutes after the break. Michael Parkhurst chipped wide on the flank to an open Meram. Using his stuttering footwork to wrong-foot defender Sean Franklin, Meram opened the lane for a left-footed cutback shot on goal and finished it coolly.
Ethan Finlay poured salt in the wound with his third brace of the season on back-to-back goals in minutes 66 and 67.
United were already losing composure after conceding the Meram goal, but the backline visibly broke down and missed assignments to allow the first of Finlay's. D.C.'s defensive struggles on the sequence effectively sacrificed Hamid to a 1-v-2 matchup, and McInerney selflessly tapped the assist to his teammate to take the goalkeeper out of the play.
Tony Tchani would free Finlay a minute later with a brilliant pass, the winger's stellar dip and finish all but ensured the rout.
The exclamation point came with the fifth and final goal in the 80th minute, scored on substitute forward Aaron Schoenfeld's diving stab past Hamid. The assist was a lofty cross from left outside back Waylon Francis, which was only appropriate in its showcasing the balance of Columbus' game plan on both sides of the ball.
In a clash of clubs competing for crucial playoff positioning in the East, the Black & Gold left no doubt as to which of the two were more deserving of a first-round bye heading into postseason play.