The Columbus Crew enter Saturday night's game with the New England Revolution tied for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia Union. They currently hold the tiebreaker, putting them into the post season if the playoffs began today.
The Black and Gold are feeling good about their recent performances after a 5-2-2 record since the middle of July. Columbus continue to look at each game as a final, with the standings so tight. One game could be the difference between whose season ends in October and who qualifies to play for glory.
After a come-from-behind 2-2 draw at the Houston Dynamo last weekend, the Crew return home with three points on their mind. In the last game, head coach Gregg Berhalter made two changes at halftime, after finding his team down 2-0 in the first half. Although Berhalter believes his team has played well overall, he said the poor half may open some doors for other faces to get playing time in what has been a consistent lineup of late.
"When you think about it, you think about guys who are in form, guys who are out of form, guys that have been training well. So yeah, there's some decisions," Berhalter said when asked about making changes for Saturday's contest.
Last week, Berhalter took out Eric Gehrig and Justin Meram in favor of Hector Jimenez and Bernardo Anor, two starters from earlier in the season who have both missed time due to injury. While Meram's substitution may have been due to a nagging minor knee injury, it would not be surprising to see Jimenez, who Berhalter likes, get the start at right back on Saturday.
Possible New Face on the Back Line
One player who could be included in Columbus' 18-man roster for the first time is new signing Emanuel Pogatetz. The central defender arrived just over a week ago and has been working on his fitness ever since.
"There's a chance," Berhalter said on Friday when asked if Pogatetz might figure in the match.
"I think that we could imagine using him in some capacity, we just have to figure out where he's at after today. Today he worked hard again, but there's a chance.
"His workload has increased. We're pushing him hard and he's responding. He's coming around."
The Austrian was out of contract before he signed with the club and must get back to game fitness in order to contribute. This has been the biggest challenge since arriving according to Pogatetz, who said his fitness would be evaluated at the end of the week.
If the central defender is used in this match, it would likely be in a substitute role. Berhalter admitted it is difficult to throw a new face into the heart of his defense during the stretch run, but believes Pogatetz can add to the back line. If he comes off the bench for the Crew on Saturday, it likely means the Black and Gold have the game in hand and are looking to close it out.
One player who was a surprise addition to the injury report this week was Columbus' Designated Player, Federico Higuain. Pipa played all 90 minutes against Houston, but apparently picked up a hamstring injury during the match.
Higuain trained this week without limitations and Berhalter said on Friday that his number 10 is "fine."
Another questionable player is forward Adam Bedell, who had an unexpected appendectomy two Sundays ago. After missing the Dynamo game last week, Berhalter believed Bedell would be available this week, but his services remain uncertain.
Bedell has played in 16 games for the Black and Gold in his rookie year, starting seven games and scoring two goals. Before the injury, Bedell had started seven consecutive games, scoring one of his goals.