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(Reuters) - Charlie Davies scored twice as the New England Revolution beat the Columbus Crew 4-2 in their Eastern Conference, first leg playoff match on Saturday while Real Salt Lake were held to a scoreless draw at home to LA Galaxy in the Western Conference.
An injury time penalty from Federico Higuain gave Columbus a glimmer of hope for the Nov. 9 second-leg but the home team were outclassed for large stretches of the game.
Justin Meram hit the bar for the Crew in the 29th minute with a drive from inside the box after good work from Waylon Francis but that served to bring New England to life.
The visitors grabbed the lead five minutes later with Davies stooping low to head in at the back post after a superbly timed-run to spring the offside trap and meet a Kelyn Rowe free-kick.
The Revolution doubled their advantage with a superb curling free-kick into the top corner from Chris Tierney six minutes after the interval, before Meram pulled one back with a side-footed effort from inside the box in the 64th minute.
Columbus's defence then fell to pieces against New England's counter-attacks.
The impressive Lee Nyugen ran, unchallenged, with the ball from inside his own half to the edge of the Crew area where he confidently slotted past Steve Clark to make it 3-1.
Davies added his second and New England's fourth when the Crew defence again backed off to give him space and he delivered a fine finish from 20 yards out.
The Revolution, however, left themselves with some work still to do in eight days after Jose Goncalves handled in the box and Higuain, brother of Argentine international Gonzalo, cheekily chipped his penalty into the net.
Real Salt Lake will head to Los Angeles next week knowing that a score draw will be enough for them to go through to the Conference final on the away goals rule.
Galaxy's best effort came in the early exchanges with Irish international Robbie Keane finding space for a low drive which Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando getting down well.
Both teams had questionable offside decisions in scoring positions go against them in the first half but after the break Salt Lake took charge.
Galaxy keeper Jaime Penedo pulled off a string of saves late in the game to keep the scores level - rushing off his line to dive at the feet of Joao Plata, keeping out a low drive from Alvaro Saborio and then, at full stretch, tipping a curling Javier Morales' shot to safety.
The other conference semi-finals on Sunday sees New York Red Bulls host D.C United in the East while the Seattle Sounders travel to FC Dallas in the West.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury