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What the Past Has Brought For the Columbus Crew

You thought the Crew struggled from April to mid-July, but that stretch now benefits the Black and Gold in retrospect.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Remember that stretch from the beginning of April to the middle of July when the Columbus Crew won one of their 16 games? What if I told you that stretch has put them in the driver's seat for the MLS Cup Playoffs this year?

This was a difficult time of the season for coaches, players, and fans alike as the Crew had a seven and an eight game winless streak.

"It was tough while we were in it," midfielder Wil Trapp said of that period. "It was kind of a grind."

During that time, Columbus had eight draws. At the time, the players and fans were frustrated those ties weren't converting to wins, but it provided the Black and Gold with eight points over that period. Combine that with the 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire in May and the Crew managed 11 points over their most difficult stretch of the season to date.

No one was happy at the time, but hindsight is 20/20.

"We would have loved those to be wins but they weren't losses as well," Trapp said.

"We got points out of those games and I think it does help for sure."

Heading into last Saturday's game with the Houston Dynamo, both teams has seven wins on the season. The difference in the standings was five points because Columbus has nine ties and Houston has four. This has helped them rise into playoff contention despite a .500 record this year.

"I've always been saying that. I've said that," head coach Gregg Berhalter said when asked about these draws benefitting the team now.

"The Colorado game, the Salt Lake game, the D.C. game coming from behind."

The games the coach mentions are two road games and a home game. The game against the Colorado Rapids was one where the Crew played well and likely should have won, but came out with a tie at altitude. Against Real Salt Lake, the Black and Gold trailed for much of the second half before a late equalizer turned no points into one. The Crew had two ties with D.C. United, but Berhalter is likely referring to the 1-1 draw at home that featured another late goal from Hector Jimenez.

The Black and Gold also earned road draws with the San Jose Earthquakes and the Portland Timbers, neither easy places to play, and at FedExField against United. They had a home draw with the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas after the game was delayed a day due to unfortunate circumstances.

"I think you're going to look back at our season, and you can even do it right now, and say you should have gotten three points out of Portland but you're happy you got a point," midfielder Ethan Finlay said.

"Then you look at a games like Colorado, we get a late goal there. The D.C. game, you get out of there with at least a point. And those start to add up and they mean that much more come October."

From the Crew perspective, it was just the inevitable weathering of the storm that comes throughout the course of an MLS season.

"I think throughout a season, you're going to weather a couple storms and maybe that was one of our storms we just had to weather," Trapp said.

Finlay agrees.

"There's obviously situations where in every season you're going to go through those types of bumps and you have to be able to get through," he said.

"We'll learn from those types of situations."

Of course, the ties don't mean much if Columbus doesn't win games. Over the last six games, the Black and Gold are 4-1-1, propelling them to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Despite the rise, Berhalter believes his team are still being educated and improving.

"The team is learning and it's learning how to win and we're still not there yet," he told reporters.

"I feel like we've been playing more consistent. I feel like we've been making less errors. I think our offensive movement has been better. I think we're getting more out of our top guy in terms of our striker so a lot of things are headed in the right direction."

The Crew enter Saturday's contest with the Montreal Impact on a high note because of their recent form, but their position in the standings comes from their body of work.

If this team makes a run into the playoffs, they will certainly look back at that stretch from April to July as a part the process that helped them achieve their goal for the first time since 2011.