Now entering his seventh year as the radio play-by-play announcer for Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, Neil Sika has also spent the past nine years providing coverage of numerous NCAA Division I athletics.
Additionally, he has worked several national and regional events on television (Big Ten Network, STO, TWC) and radio (Monarch Sports).
Buckeyes, Blue Jackets and more
Needing a win to clinch their first playoff berth since 2009, the New England Revolution rode a Juan Agudelo first-half goal to a gritty 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew on Sunday afternoon.
It was the Revolution's second straight win over Columbus to close out the MLS regular season and the three points vaulted them to third place in the Eastern Conference (14-11-9, 51pts), pending the conclusion of the New York vs. Chicago match-up.
Despite being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Crew (12-16-5, 41pts) used a similar lineup to their 3-2 loss in New England last Saturday, missing Designated PlayerFederico Higuain for the second straight week due to a hip injury. Meanwhile, Kevin Alston started his first game for the Revolution since August 10, filling in for left back Chris Tierney.
But it was the Crew who nearly found the back of the net first when a Dominic Odurobreakaway ended in a point-blank shot that was stopped by New England 'keeper Matt Reis just three minutes into the game.
New England would regroup and go on to open the scoring in the 28th minute from a gorgeous give-and-go between Agudelo and Lee Nguyen.
Fullback Andrew Farrell found Agudelo on a long pass into the box, and the forward flipped his first touch to Nguyen as the midfielder ran toward goal. When Columbus keeper Andy Gruenebaum moved toward Nguyen, he cut a pass back to Agudelo, who was left with an easy left-footed finish to give New England the lead they would not relinquish.
The Crew spent much of the second half launching attacks at the bunkering New England defense, but the Columbus attack was largely toothless and unable to get a clean look in the Revolution's third.
Despite the Crew swapping a defender for a forward for much of the second half, New England's defense, marshalled by captain Jose Goncalves, was more than up to the task.
Tempers boiled over in the beginning of an eight-minute stoppage time period, and Oduro was punished with a straight red card for an off-the-ball kick from behind on Revs midfielder Kelyn Rowe.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Juan Agudelo||This is why they kept him from moving to Stoke in the summer. His moment of flair single-handedly put the Revs into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.|
|2||Jose Goncalves||The hearts of Revs fans sunk as fast as Goncalves was rubbing his right hamstring after just five minutes. But the captain was not about to bail on his team and he marshalled a perfect defensive effort.|
|3||Matt Reis||It was a defense-first kind of game for the Revs and their goalkeeper made sure to keep everything tidy, including making his biggest save of the match after just three minutes.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Diego Fagundez picked up the New England Revolution team MVP award in a pre-match ceremony. He then showed why he warranted the honor by scoring a precious winner in the final quarter of an hour to dash Columbus' postseason hopes and hand the Revolution a 3-2 victory at Gillette Stadium.
Fagundez capped a frenetic second half by turning home at the far post to give the Revs all three points. His composed finish settled a compelling game when the Revs twice took the lead only for the desperate Crew to respond in kind.
A.J. Soares headed home to stake the Revs to a halftime lead, but Dominic Oduro responded after the break to level the proceedings. Chris Tierney claimed the lead again from the penalty spot only for influential second-half substitute Aaron Schoenfeld to fire home to restore parity.
The late winner from Fagundez bolstered the Revs' playoff hopes – they will enter the final match with a chance to procure a playoff berth in Columbus next Sunday – and eliminated the Crew with one match remaining.
New England started brightly in a bid to claim the victory required to bolster its postseason hopes. Juan Agudelo spurned a sumptuous Kelyn Rowe diagonal inside the first 10 minutes, while Andy Dorman's persistence at the far post forced Matt Lampson to rush out to block his effort moments later.
Oduro dragged a half-chance wide to provide a modest respite, but the Revolution continued to apply most of the pressure. Chad Barson hacked clear a Jerry Bengtson square pass shortly before the half-hour mark to stem the tide, but the Crew eventually broke after 32 minutes.
The sequence started when Rowe tempted Ethan Finlay into a rash tackle on the left wing. Rowe brushed himself off and then drove an inviting set piece toward the near post. Soares made a determined run to meet it and glanced it home for his first goal of the season.
Soares' opener constituted the Revolution's lead at the interval, but a tactical switch at halftime by Crew interim coach Brian Bliss and the urgency for both sides sparked a back-and-forth second half.
Columbus improved considerably in the opening moments after Schoenfeld replaced Finlay and supplied a genuine target up front alongside Jairo Arrieta. Schoenfeld justified his inclusion shortly before the hour with prototypical hold-up work to play Oduro behind the line. Oduro then smashed home the equalizer with a rasping near post drive.
Parity held for 10 minutes or so before Tierney restored the lead from the spot. Tony Tchanihauled down Dorman on the right side of the penalty area to cap a furious sequence inside the Crew penalty area. Tierney assumed the responsibility with Lee Nguyen suspended and coolly dispatched his effort inside the far post.
Schoenfeld then pegged the Revs back for a second time with his first MLS goal. Oduro turned provider on this occasion with a perfectly placed feed on the edge of the penalty area. Schoenfeld settled well, turned onto his foot and walloped his effort past Matt Reis to draw the Crew level after 71 minutes.
Both teams committed numbers into the attacking third with a draw meaning relatively little to both teams in the final accounting. The ambitious deportment yielded a furious closing quarter of an hour and a winner through Fagundez.
Fagundez spurned a glorious opportunity to double the Revs lead moments before Oduro made it 1-1, but he made no mistake to cap off this sweeping Revolution move. The sequence started with a long Reis boot up field and proceeded with a flick, a couple of neat passes inside the Crew penalty area and a precise square from Dorman toward the far post.
Fagundez moved deftly into the proper area and then polished off the move appropriately with his 13th goal of the campaign to hand the Revs all three points and scupper the Crew's postseason hopes.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Kelyn Rowe||A complete performance in midfield from the young talent. Drew and delviered the free kick for the opener, made a number of decisive passes and defended well|
|2||Dominic Oduro||Carried the Crew's attack on his shoulders with Federico Higuaín out. Gave the Revs fits with his speed, grabbed a goal and assist, and even delivered some key passes|
|3||Diego Fagundez||Showed composure beyond his years, driving the Revs' attack forward and getting the all-important winning goal|
A bye week is no excuse for Crew fans to take the weekend off from watching Major League Soccer. In fact, this weekend’s slate of games is crucial with the Black & Gold still clinging to a chance to qualify for the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs.
All three of Saturday’s matches – Montreal vs. New England, D.C. vs. Philadelphia and Dallas vs. Chicago – are important to the Eastern Conference playoff race, and two will determine whether the Crew enters next Saturday’s match at New England with hope to make the postseason.
Throughout the month of September and into October, the Black & Gold’s mantra has been to focus on one game at a time, so it only makes sense for fans to do the same on Saturday. Here’s your guide for who to root for on Saturday while waiting for next week’s game.
Montreal Impact (13-10-7, 46 points) vs. New England Revolution (11-11-9, 42 points) - Stade Saputo, 2:30 p.m. ET
Figuring this one out is going to require a little bit of math. Looking at the Eastern Conference standings, Montreal sits in fourth place, five points ahead of Columbus. New England is in seventh, just one point clear of the Crew.
Weighing-in the fact that the Crew and Revolution face-off the final two weeks of the regular-season in a home-and-home, there is no way New England can enter next Saturday’s match out of Columbus’ reach. The Revolution is going to need at least one draw against the Black & Gold to finish ahead of them in the standings.
Montreal, on the other hand, is dangerously close to becoming out of reach. A draw or win Saturday would make it impossible for the Crew to climb ahead of the Impact. The verdict: Crew fans need to root for a Revs win in Montreal. A draw works as well, but for different reasons, as it would keep the Revs mired in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
The only meeting between these two teams this season produced fireworks at Gillette Stadium, thanks in large part to New England goalkeeper Matt Reis’ sending-off in the fifth minute on a foul in the box. Montreal’s Patrice Bernier scored the ensuing penalty kick to give Montreal a 1-0 lead, and the Impact was able to see-off a 4-2 victory against 10 men.
The Revolution will be out for revenge Saturday with Reis back in the lineup. It may be a good opportunity to steal points on the road, as Montreal has failed to win in its last four matches. The Revs will also feel they had two points snatched away last Saturday at Red Bull Arena, where Diego Fagundez’s would-be winner in stoppage time was neutralized by an even later goal by New York’s Tim Cahill. The Crew badly needs the Revs to earn three points in Montreal, but it would be difficult to say the Black & Gold want that result any more than New England. It should make for an exciting match.
D.C. United (3-22-6, 15 points) vs. Philadelphia Union (12-10-9, 45 points) - RFK Stadium, 7:00 p.m. ET
If the Montreal-New England match does not go the Crew’s way, the Black & Gold must hold out hope that this one does.
Again, get out your calculators. Philadelphia sits in the East’s fifth and final playoff spot, four points ahead of Columbus. Anything short of a Philadelphia win on Saturday keeps alive hope of passing the Union over the last two weeks of the season.
Unfortunately, the only thing preventing that from happening is lowly D.C. United, which sits dead last in the Eastern Conference and has failed to win in its last nine MLS matches. While it may seem like Crew fans are rooting for the impossible, D.C. United has already beaten the Union once this season, though it was in the fourth-round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (United went on to win the tournament).
Philadelphia has won its last two matches 1-0, but that followed a four-game winless streak from Aug. 17-Sept. 14. If D.C. can manage to score multiple goals at home, it may just be able to see off a result against Philadelphia. In the end, that is all Crew fans are hoping for.
FC Dallas (10-10-11, 43 points) vs. Chicago Fire (12-12-7, 43 points) - Toyota Stadium, 8:30 p.m. ET
This one is the simplest of the bunch. Crew fans need their Pioneer Cup rivals to do enough to hold Chicago to a draw. This would give the Fire 44 points heading into the penultimate round of MLS play, allowing the Crew to pass their archrival with two Black & Gold wins over New England.
A Dallas victory doesn't hurt either, but we'll settle for a draw.
FINAL VERDICT: It's going to feel a little funny, but for one weekend, Crew Nation is rooting for New England, United and FC Dallas.