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It was the type of well-struck, bending and dipping left-footed rocket that one would expect from Zinedine Zidane. Or perhaps from Roberto Carlos. But from Avery John? Not a chance.


Yet, it was the first-year defender's once-in-a-career hard strike from 25 yards out that blew past goalkeeper Jon Busch in the 25th minute and stood as the difference in New England's 1-0 victory over Columbus in Game 1 of their home-and-home playoff series on Saturday night.

"Nothing in his past showed us that he'd ever, ever be capable of something like that," joked fellow defender Rusty Pierce. "In practice, he's like most of us centerbacks - we're wide, we're high, we're everywhere but on target."

Shalrie Joseph agreed wholeheartedly.

"No, we've never seen him do that at practice at all," said the 26-year-old midfielder. "If he shoots from that far at practice, we all get on his case. He might hit one from out there now and then, but he hits it so soft that {goalkeeper} Matt (Reis) can take it down on his chest."

That was hardly the case against the Crew, though. After receiving what looked like a harmless ball from Steve Ralston at midfield, John advanced up the middle of the field without a defender in sight before unleashing a shot that would have made any goalkeeper look helpless.

"He took the space he got and he just laced it," said Joseph. "What a great goal. We all were laughing - we couldn't believe Avery scored a goal. We were happy he scored, but of all people, we couldn't believe it was Avery."

"I knew it was going in the whole way," joked Revolution head coach Steve Nicol, who later added, "He was probably as surprised as we were."

"It's a nice feeling, but it's not a shock," said John after the game.

For a player who had never scored a goal in Major League Soccer and had only registered four shots on the entire season coming into the match, it took a special circumstance for him to even look at the goal.

But that's exactly what any defender in the league would do when given so much time and space inside the opposition's half of the field.

Even with 40 yards to go, John thought about taking a crack at the goal -- "you never know what is going to happen with the wind," he said -- but he took an extra few touches once the Crew defenders backed off seemingly expecting him to lay the ball off. Once the 18-yard box was in sight, he wound up and let it fly.

While he would love to take credit for the voodoo tricks his ball seemed to be under in flight, John was hardly trying to swerve it into the top left of the goal.

"I was just trying to hit it hard and straight at the goal," he said. "I'm not a natural goal-scorer, so the most important thing you want to do is to keep it on target. And anything can happen after that."

In this case, it not only gave the Revs a 1-0 victory to snap the Crew's amazing 18-game unbeaten run, but it also put his side in a position to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third year in a row with either a victory or a tie on the road in Columbus next Sunday.

While it's highly unlikely that John will show up in the scorer's sheet again next weekend, it's safe to say that his usual hard-nosed defending will be apparent as it was on Saturday night. As part of a Revs unit that made several hard tackles from the start, a message was definitely sent.

John's takedown of Chris Wingert in the 58th minute that resulted in a yellow card was a hard enough foul that Columbus head coach Greg Andrulis was asking why it wasn't a red card after the match. The 29-year-old Trinidad native wasn't apologizing afterwards, though, saying it's part of the game, especially in the postseason.

"You're coming into our house - it's going to be a battle," he said. "There are no two ways about it. You want to come out and play aggressive and be first to the ball. You have to defend with your life. It's playoff time. It's now or never."

Whether he plays on the left side of the defense as he did in Nicol's 3-5-2 formation against the Crew or in the central defense paired with Pierce in a 4-4-2, John is a pure defender.

It's the only position he's ever played and one that he enjoys. Forget the long-range bombs, John would take a game-saving tackle against an Edson Buddle or a Jeff Cunningham over anything else.

"I know it's not the right thing to say, but I get more joy hitting someone in a tackle or something like that than scoring a goal," said John with a bit of a mischievous laugh. "It's a good feeling -- don't get me wrong -- but I'm a defender by birth. I grew up doing it. I love doing it. I love doing a tackle; getting up for headers and everything. That's my joy."

It's one of the reasons his Revolution teammates have taken to him since he joined the side back in mid-May after playing in Ireland for Longford Town.

"He comes to work every day when he comes to practice and he works hard," said Joseph. "He's one of the guys like Rusty Pierce who get into people. Avery is a really tough defender and very physical. I'm just glad he's on my side."

"You know what you're going to get with Avery," said Pierce, who organized the three-man backline against Columbus. "He's tough and he has that willingness to get into a tackle. I respect that a lot out of Avery, and it's why he gets so much playing time. He's also very good in the air, which is something he's kept improving on since he's got here, and he does a good job not getting turned around when defending. He brings a decent amount to us in the back."

Part of John's strong play over the 22 games he's now played (20 as a starter) comes from the confidence he gained during a three-month stint at Birmingham City in the English Premiership at the beginning of the year.

Even though he was just allowed to train with the side that, at the time, included L.A. Galaxy striker Jovan Kirovski due to work permit issues, he played well enough that the club explored ways around it to sign him.

"It proved that I can play at any level," said John.

He parlayed that into a contract in Ireland, and eventually a shot in MLS once his season was complete. In his first season, he said he's noticed the athleticism and physicality of the league more than anything. He also soon came to realize that any team can win on any given day in MLS, unlike what he saw during his brief time in England.

"There's really not a dominant team in this league," said John. "Everybody plays everybody so much, it seems like you can win, lose or tie depending on the day. That's not the case in the Premiership when teams like Arsenal and Man. U. are way above everyone else. "

While the numbers showed that Columbus was on its way to separating itself from the rest of the pack going into the playoffs, the Revs erased such thoughts with the 1-0 upset at Gillette Stadium.

Thanks to its unlikely goal-scorer, Avery John.