The Columbus Crew have a mountain before them and must figure out a way to climb it. After a 4-2 home defeat at the hands of the New England Revolution in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Black and Gold have it all to do in order to advance to the conference finals.
"Three goals," midfielder Ethan Finlay said after the loss. "That's the goal. Nothing else is acceptable. We won't be thinking about anything else and we know the task at hand."
Due to the new format of the MLS Playoffs, a 2-0 win won't be enough for the Crew to force overtime. This year, the playoffs adopted the away goals tiebreaker and New England scored four away from home in the opening contest. This means Columbus must win by three goals or score five or more away goals, while winning by two.
The simplest route to advancement, if you can call it simple, is a 3-0 result. This is easier said than done, as the Revolution have not been shutout since mid-August.
"It's not going to be an easy task," Hector Jimenez, who played right back in the first contest, admitted on Wednesday.
"It's not going to be easy. Especially with the way they've been playing as of late and the weapons they have up top."
The good news is the Crew were the last team to shutout New England, defeating them 1-0 on August 20. Unfortunately for Columbus, that game was at Crew Stadium and the second leg will be played at Gillette Stadium.
The key for the Black and Gold will be balancing their attack and the need to score with defending and preventing the Revolution from increasing their lead.
"You're going to have to balance it," head coach Gregg Berhalter said when asked how to handle this situation.
"I think you look at the game in stretches and you've got to manage the game. There's a part when, based on the score line, you're going to be desperate. That isn't necessarily all 90 minutes so you need to figure that part of it out."
For the Crew, an early goal would be the best case scenario as it would build confidence and possibly rattle the Revolution a little bit. If they can't, the team must stay calm and keeping working to get that first goal.
"We talked about keeping our composure and playing our style for the first half," Jimenez said. "And hopefully, if we're ahead, in the second half much a couple more number forward."
As the game progresses, it will become more important for the Black and Gold to find the back of the net and the pressure will mount, but they can't put pressure on themselves to do everything at once. The one thing the Crew must remember is the goals can only come one at a time, so they can't try and do too much. If they throw too many numbers forward early and New England can grab a 1-0 lead in the game, it could spell the end for Columbus.