Work in Sports
TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Jeff Cunningham set up one goal and scored another as the Columbus Crew earned its third straight appearance in the Eastern Conference finals with a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
The Crew completed a two-game sweep of the conference semifinals and extended the Mutiny's playoff losing streak to six games.
Columbus took the lead for good on a goal by second-year forward Brian West in the 23rd minute. Midfielder John DeBrito began the drive when he pushed the ball forward to Cunningham at the top of the penalty area. Cunningham's quick touch pass freed West from the defense and enabled the former University of Virginia star to strike the ball solidly on the run.
The goal allowed the Crew to retreat into a tight, defensive shell for most of the game. Concentrating on taking offensive opportunities away from the Mutiny, Columbus allowed Tampa Bay to keep possession of the ball for long stretches.
Solid marking by Columbus kept Tampa Bay forward Raul Diaz Arce ineffective for the entire contest, holding the league's second all-time scorer without a shot, which severely limited the Mutiny's offensive capabilities.
Cunningham provided the insurance goal in the closing minutes, capitalizing on a failed clearance attempt from Mutiny defender Chris Houser. Houser attempted to get the ball out of the penalty area but his clearance richocheted off Crew forward Brian McBride and landed at the feet of Cunningham, who sealed the series sweep with the 88th-minute strike.
Mark Dougherty made four saves for the Crew, who will face the winner of the other semifinal series between the D.C. United and Miami Fusion. The United holds a 1-0 lead in the series and has beaten Columbus in the last two conference finals.