It feels as if it was only a few weeks ago when the Columbus Crew opened the season with a 3-0 win over D.C. United at RFK Stadium. After an offseason of uncertainty, the Black and Gold began the year with a big win on the road and followed that with a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union to begin their home slate.
As the Crew prepare for their penultimate home game of the year on Saturday night against the Montreal Impact, the coaches and players reflect on the season that is quickly coming to a close.
"It is [crazy]. The season's flown by," head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week.
"It's been good, it's been a fun year and we'd like to finish it off the right way. The guys worked extremely hard, I think more than I could have imagined. The way they tolerated the workload and how we pushed forward and how they adapted. It's been a good year."
Berhalter said all year that he wants his team to embrace the challenge of playing on the road, but he also desires a dominant team at Columbus Crew Stadium. As he points out, that is easier said than done.
"Everyone likes the idea of saying their home ground is a fortress, but you have to make it happen and you have to work at it," he said.
"At the beginning of the year, you come out with the idea that we're not going to lose at home and you lose your second game at home. Then you've got to start looking at it and evaluating and clawing your way for those results."
After the 2-0 loss to Toronto FC in the second home game of the year, Columbus went three games without a win at home over the span of a month and a half. After a 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire, it was another struggle until the middle of July.
Berhalter preached stay the course and now looks back at that time as points earned in draws rather than three points lost.
"When you look at the D.C. game, the Salt Lake game when we came from behind. Then as we start building, the Galaxy game, the Chicago game. It has an effect," he said.
The Crew have now strung together four straight wins at home, outscoring their opponents 11-1 in the process and are earning a reputation.
"Now you're reading quotes from the opposing team saying, ‘Columbus is a difficult team to play at their place,'" the head coach said.
"I think we've made progress and we're not exactly there yet but we want to keep going and keep winning."
The team has succeeded on the field this year, but the organization has also seen results in the stands. The Black and Gold set the record for sellouts in a season with four so far and had some of their highest attended games in the stadium's 15-year history.
"It's a credit to the front office. Working hard to get people in the seats and they've been doing a great job this year," Berhalter said.
"I would say that they underestimate the power they can have on the match, the crowd does. When we have a good crowd behind us, we're going to be tough to beat. It's most places, right? You see Portland, how they affected the game, Seattle. When our guys are behind us and there's people in the stands, it's tough to play us there."
The Crew expect another sellout on Saturday as they look for another win to continue their push for the MLS Cup playoffs. Columbus are fifth in the Eastern Conference with 40 points but are only five points out of second place. They hope to take advantage at home before heading out on the road for three matches.
"We've made a lot of strides as a team and we feel prepared going into the stretch run," captain Michael Parkhurst said.
"We want to take advantage of these two home games that we have left. Hopefully we'll have one in the playoffs as well. It's gone by quick but we're enjoying it."