Tale of two teams

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Columbus Crew and New England Revolution have spent most of this Major League Soccer season jockeying for first place in the superior Eastern Conference. Their showdown Saturday at Crew Stadium will go a long way toward determining who wins that race and hoists the Supporters' Shield, the award for the best record in MLS.

These clubs are no strangers -- as two of the league's charter franchises, they've tangoed time and time again over the past 13 years. Before the Revs come to visit Saturday, let's take a look back at some memorable chapters in the history of Columbus vs. New England.

May 11, 1996: In the first meeting between the clubs, New England took a 2-0 lead into the half and looked to have a 2-1 win locked up as the final minutes ticked away at Ohio Stadium. But goals from "Sneaky" Pete Marino and Brian McBride in the 87th and 89th minutes propelled the Crew to a 3-2 comeback victory and many of the 24,750 on hand into a fit of field-rushing euphoria.

Sept. 21, 1996: After a sweltering summer of disappointment, Columbus rattled off nine straight victories to set the stage for the last day of the season: The winner of the Crew-Revolution match would secure the East's final playoff berth. As was so often the case in those days, McBride came through for the Crew, delivering the sole tally in his club's 1-0 triumph at Foxboro Stadium and completing Columbus' improbable comeback.

Aug. 8, 1998: As Stern John powered his way to the MLS scoring title, the Crew netted six goals -- a franchise best that has since been equaled but never eclipsed -- and Columbus continued its 1990s Revolution domination.

May 15, 1999: The Crew could have been weary after starting the season with seven road matches while construction wrapped up on the first soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. But Jeff Cunningham christened Crew Stadium with a 10th-minute tally and Columbus went on to win 2-0 in the park's debut.

Oct. 31, 2004: This Halloween became the spookiest memory in Crew history. Columbus needed a win in the second leg of its home-and-home playoff series to advance or force a sudden-death overtime period.

The Crew squandered a chance to break a 0-0 tie when penalty-kick expert Ross Paule blew a 25th-minute chance from the spot. When the referee awarded Columbus a second PK late in the second half, newly acquired World Cup veteran Tony Sanneh waved off all-time Crew goals leader Cunningham and proceeded to deliver the sort of feeble strike that would draw snickers at a U-7 girls' match.

Deflated, Columbus soon surrendered a goal to Taylor Twellman. Edson Buddle's stoppage-time equalizer was too little too late as New England ousted Columbus from the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The Crew hasn't made the postseason since.