MLS fans who also follow the UEFA Champions League will have a familar experience on their hands when the Conference Semifinals kick-off this weekend.
For the first time in League history, MLS will use the away goals rule as the first tiebreaker in deciding two-legged aggregate series.
For those unfamiliar with the two-legged aggregate series and how the away goals rule works, here's an explanation: Columbus and New England will play two matches in the Conference Semifinals. The total goals for each club over the two matches will be added up, with the most goals winning. In other words, margin of victory matters.
Here's where the away goals part comes in: if, after the two matches, the clubs are level, the first tiebreaker is the total number of away goals scored. In other words, if the Crew and Revs tie 0-0 in Columbus and then 1-1 in Foxborough, the Black & Gold would advance by virtue of having more away goals.
If away goals are also level after the second match, then the two teams will immediately progress to extra time and penalty kicks, if necessary. Away goals do not count in extra time, meaning that if both teams score in the bonus 30 minutes, it does not matter who is the away team and penalty kicks will follow.
The exact wording from the rulebook is below:
"The four Conference Semifinals will be decided by two-game aggregate series, with the lower seed hosting the first leg and the higher seed hosting the second leg. If the aggregate score is tied after 180 minutes of play, the away goals rule will apply so as to be consistent with CONCACAF and FIFA practice. If the series remains tied, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by penalty kicks, if necessary. The away goals tiebreaker will not apply to overtime in the second leg of any two-legged playoff series.
"The two Conference Championships will be decided by a two-game aggregate series, with the lower seed hosting the first leg and the higher seed hosting the second leg. If the aggregate score is tied after 180 minutes of play, the away goals rule will apply so as to be consistent with CONCACAF and FIFA practice. If the series remains tied, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by penalty kicks, if necessary. The away goals tiebreaker will not apply to overtime in the second leg of any two-legged playoff series."
Steve Clark's diving save of Danny Cruz's top-of-the-box blast in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union is nominated for Save of the Week on MLSsoccer.com. Clark's competition for the weekly award includes the Chicago Fire's Sean Johnson, Portland Timbers FC's Donovan Ricketts, FC Dallas' Chris Seitz and the New York Red Bulls' Luis Robles.
Voting runs until 11:59 pm PT on Thursday and the winner will be announced Friday.
Working tirelessly up and down the left flank in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union, Crew leftback Waylon Francis earned a Team of the Week nod from MLSsoccer.com in Week 33. It is the Costa Rican's first Team of the Week appearance in 2014. Midfielder Tony Tchani was named Honorable Mention.
Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter hasn't been shy in expressing his sincere gratitude for the support that Crew fans have brought all season long. On Sunday's edition of "Crew Warm-Up," Time Warner Cable SportsChannel's comprehensive pre-match show, Berhalter says that that support began with the very first match of the season and hasn't let up.
"The fans have been with us every step of the way," said the Crew boss. "We couldn’t have done what we've been doing without them. When I think back to the first game in D.C., the fan support we had there, that really set the tone for the year, what they were going to be like. To have this many sellouts at home and to have us start a little slow at home and pick up momentum and become a team that people don’t want to play here – a lot of that has to do with them, the fans and how they’ve supported us. The players have really embraced that."
To hear more from Berhalter, make sure to tune-in to "Crew Warm-Up," airing Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET ahead of the season finale versus Philadelphia on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel.
Two of the last three matches between the Crew and the Union have featured a club setting an all-time record for its fastest three goals. On June 5, 2013, Philadelphia scored three times between the 25th minute and the 31st minute. Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams and Conor Casey all tallied to fuel the Union to a 3-0 win. Two weekends ago, in the Crew’s first trip to PPL Park since that match, the Black & Gold notched three goals in four minutes to set their all-time club record. Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram and Jairo Arrieta’s tallies over the span from the 78th minute to the 82nd minute elevated the Crew to a 3-2 comeback victory.
The Crew’s three-goal outburst last weekend at Red Bull Arena marked the second consecutive three-goal performance on the road for the Crew, matching the effort on October 11 at Philadelphia. The Black & Gold hadn’t achieved back-to-back road efforts with three or more goals since June 14 and June 21, 2008 when the club scored three at Kansas City and at LA. Overall, the Crew has achieved this back-to-back feat five times in its history.
The last goal that the Crew has allowed at home came on August 16 versus LA, when Gyasi Zardes scored in the 49th minute, Since that goal, the Crew has not conceded at home over a span that included the remainder of the LA match and four additional fixtures. All-told, the Crew carries a 401 minute shutout streak at home into Sunday’s contest. This is the longest home shutout streak in club history. The longest overall shutout streak in Black & Gold history is 413 minutes, set in early 2011.
The Crew clinched its first MLS Cup Playoff berth since 2011 last weekend. All-told, the Black & Gold are headed to the Playoffs for the 12th time in club history. The Crew won MLS Cup in 2008, the first of four consecutive Playoff appearances. Playoff tickets are available at TheCrew.com.
HOME SWEET HOME
The Crew is returning home for the first time since September 27, when it defeated the Montreal Impact by a final score of 2-0 ... overall, the Black & Gold are 5-0-0 in their last five home clashes and 6-1-0 over their last seven ... the Crew has outscored its last five home opponents by an aggregate scoreline of 13-1 ... goalkeeper Steve Clark has kept a clean sheet in each of his last four home outings.
Ethan Finlay’s strike in the 34th minute against New York held up as the game-winner last Sunday ... the goal brought Finlay’s game-winning goals tally to five in 2014 ... the winger is now one of nine players to record at least five game-winning goals this season ... he joins New England’s Lee Nguyen, LA’s Gyasi Zardes, Seattle’s Clint Dempsey and Houston’s Will Bruin as the only Americans to accomplish the feat this season.
TCHANI EXTENDS ASSISTS MARK
Tony Tchani notched another assist against New York last weekend, taking his season total to six helpers ... that amount represents a new career-best for the Cameroonian in the category, exploding past the three assists he recorded in 2010 with the New York Red Bulls ... Tchani has recorded assists in three consecutive games for the first time in his MLS career ... the midfielder also has four assists over his last three contests alone.