The goal is in sight for Columbus Crew SC. After making the postseason for the first time since 2011 last year, the Black & Gold came into 2015 with high expectations and everything is still on the table for the team.
Heading into Saturday's match with the New York Red Bulls, Crew SC sit one point behind the team they face in a battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Columbus is also only three points back in the Supporter's Shield race, the award presented to the team with the best regular season record.
If the Black & Gold can capture one or both of those regular season trophies, it would be the first time since 2009 when Columbus finished with the best recording the league, but was bounced from the MLS Cup Playoffs in the first round.
With the playoff format different than it was then, head coach Gregg Berhalter said his team is looking to avoid the one-game playoff between teams sixth through third.
"I think our focus is on the one or two seed," he said this week. "That's where we want to go and that's a lot easier said than done.
"I would say either seed that prevents us from playing in play-in game would be good."
Even if Crew SC were to win each of its three remaining games, the Black & Gold could still finish outside the top two thanks to other teams having played fewer games so far.
Even with a loss on Saturday, the Red Bulls are still in a good spot for the East's top spot, sitting on 48 points with four games to go. The Montreal Impact, who also have only played 29 games, could pull ahead of Columbus if both teams win out.
"We don't control our own destiny right now in terms of that," Berhalter said. "So it's going to take some help from other teams, but we certainly want to make a push at that."
Last week's home loss to the Portland Timbers was disappointing not only due to the defeat, but because the Black & Gold could have climbed to the top spot in the East and been sitting in a better position moving forward if they had gotten a result.
While Berhalter admitted the team's goal for the final few games, he was quick to not jump to any conclusions. New York is the only team in the league to secure a playoff spot at this point and just because they are on the cusp doesn't mean Crew SC are taking the playoffs for granted.
"I think we're getting ahead of ourselves, we're not even in the playoffs yet. That's something you've got to remember. We're still fighting for that spot and until that's cemented, we can't make any plans."
One point this weekend will lock Columbus into the postseason, as will anything but three points by Orlando City SC in Montreal.
As the MLS regular season comes to a close, the Black & Gold are sitting in a good spot. All the team can do is get results and see how other teams fair, but the club is almost assured of the postseason for the second straight year.