By IAN HOLLIDAY
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Columbus Crew came into Gillette Stadium Saturday night knowing all it needed to secure a fourth consecutive playoff berth was a win over the last-placed New England Revolution. Ninety minutes and one of its more dominant performances of the year later, the Crew had done just that.
Andres Mendoza opened and closed the scoring for the visitors, and Dilly Duka netted in the 59th minute as Columbus (13-12-8, 47 points) easily dispatched New England (5-16-12, 27 points) 3-0.
After the match, Crew head coach Robert Warzycha said he was pleased with his team's performance and its response to the pressure of playing for a playoff berth.
"The three goals we scored today, I've very happy with," Warzycha said. "I think the guys responded very well. We had to win this game to go to the playoffs so obviously it was a difficult game away from home."
Mendoza's first came in the 31st minute when he ran onto a headed ball from Emilio Renteria that defender Darrius Barnes overran. The Peruvian took a touch to set up a left-footed shot, which he buried low past Revolution backup goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Barnes was involved in the Crew's second goal as well, mis-clearing a loose ball into the path of Duka, who rounded defender Kevin Alston and rolled a shot inside the far post past Shuttleworth.
The Revs maintained a high back line right from the start of the match, catching Crew forwards offside eight times in the first half and 14 times overall.
"I'm getting gray hairs sometimes because of that," Warzycha said of the number of times his team saw the offside flag. "The back line for New England lived dangerously all game, so obviously there had to be different runs."
When the offside trap didn't work, Columbus looked dangerous. One such occasion came in the 25th minute, when Renteria broke free on the left side and sent in a low cross for Mendoza that Shuttleworth got just enough of before Chris Tierney cleared.
Renteria and Mendoza hooked up again in the 63rd minute on another play that beat the offside trap. Renteria ran onto a long pass from defender Sebastian Miranda and drove a cross to Mendoza, who buried a first-time shot inside the near post.
For the Revs, the loss concludes the home schedule of a dismal 2011. Head coach Steve Nicol expressed his frustration after the match, which was fan appreciation night at Gillette Stadium.
"It's disappointing," Nicol said. "We wanted to at least go out and give the fans something to cheer about. It's been a tough one for them as well. We appreciate them coming every home game to watch us and support us, which they have done fantastically all season. So it's disappointing that we couldn't finish up by giving them a reason to go home with smiles on their faces."
Both clubs will conclude their 2011 seasons on the road on Saturday. The Revolution will wrap up their schedule north of the border at Toronto FC, while the crew will travel to Toyota Park to take on the Chicago Fire.
Though his team has achieved its goal of making the playoffs with a game to spare, Warzycha said he has no plans to take it easy against the Fire.
"We're not going to rest anybody," he said. "I don't think [the players] want to have the weekend off. They want to go and play, because then we can have momentum that's very positive before the playoffs."
Columbus still has a chance win the MLS Eastern Conference with a victory over Chicago and losses or draws from Philadelphia and Sporting Kansas City next week.