For more than a month, the Columbus Crew have been in a battle for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. With the standings so tight, every game matters especially because the schedule largely pits most of the East against each other over the final two months of the year.
The Columbus players and coaches have deemed every game a final, explaining the importance of each and every point as they look to lock up a playoff spot and improve their positioning.
The Black and Gold can focus on winning each game, but part of how they finish will depend on the results of the teams around them. This means, while concentrating on their own games, the players and staff have one eye on the rest of the East.
"Looking around the league, looking at New England win last night and Toronto win this afternoon, there was added pressure in this game to perform," Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said following Saturday night's 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact.
The New England Revolution, who sit two points above Columbus in the standings, defeated Sporting Kansas City 3-2 on Friday night to move in a tie with their opponent for second in the conference. As Berhalter mentioned, Toronto FC played early Saturday afternoon, also winning 3-2 over the Portland Timbers.
"Obviously, with the results around the league, everyone is winning so we need to win," goalkeeper Steve Clark said postgame.
With the standings as they are, the Crew are in good position to make the playoffs if they can continue their recent form. If that holds true, it will be about moving up the standings in order to give them the best chance to make a run.
The Black and Gold currently sit in fourth place in the East with 43 points, but are only up two points on the New York Red Bulls who play at the LA Galaxy Sunday night, a game you can bet most of the Crew will be watching.
With every game on television these days, it makes it easy for players to keep track of what their foes are doing. While this certainly has its positives, it also can be a negative according to Berhalter.
"Ideally, you wouldn't want them seeing that at all and just go out and play, but of course you watch it," Berhalter said of the reality.
"Our next week opponent was last night, we're play the Philly in a couple weeks. I think that it's natural to look at the table and to feel a little bit added pressure."
If Columbus has felt pressure recently, it certainly hasn't been apparent in their play. The team has gone 7-2-2 over their last 11 games, including defeating the Galaxy 4-1 and the Houston Dynamo 3-0 while also coming from two goals down in Houston to get a point.
Nothing is safe for Columbus and focus on themselves is going to be important in order to qualify for the playoffs, but it will continue to be equally as important to keep track of the teams around them. It has worked for the Black and Gold so far, there's no reason to think it can't continue.