Work in Sports
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) -- Stern John scored a pair of late goals to lead the Columbus Crew to a hard-fought 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Mutiny in their best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals opener.
Midfielder Robert Warzycha and forward Brian West contributed the assists, helping orchestrate the win in the Crew's fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
John recorded his first goal in the 78th minute, capitalizing on Brian McBride's run to the near post, which distracted the defense. Warzycha played the ball forward along the right sideline to second-half subsitute Brian West, who worked his way deep into Mutiny territory before centering the ball. McBride's run to the goal drew several defenders, leaving John the opportunity to hammer the ball past goalkeeper Scott Garlick.
John's second goal came in the 84th minute as the Trinidadian striker tipped in Warzycha's bending free kick. Mutiny defender Joseph Addo was draped all over John as he rushed towards the goal line but could not stop John's delicate deflection, which sailed past a helpless Garlick for the insurance goal.
Mark Dougherty made a pair of saves for the Crew.
Game Two is Friday in Tampa, Florida. In the two previous playoff meetings between the clubs, the winner of the opener has advanced.
The first half was filled with wild end-to-end runs from both teams under cold, slippery conditions. Tampa Bay's defenders repeatedly shut down Columbus' quick counterattacks with long, sliding tackles on the wet grass.
Each side generated several solid chances but both goalkeepers were stellar, keeping the half scoreless.
Mutiny midfielder Steve Ralston played an excellent two-way game, providing tough defense and creating scoring chances.