Sunday is big, really big.
"This is a huge game for Columbus Crew SC," midfielder Ethan Finlay told Massive Report. "Your season kind of comes down to this moment and this is how you set yourself up for postseason."
Major League Soccer has labeled Sunday "Decision Day" with the four Eastern Conference games that have playoff implications all occurring at the same time. The Black & Gold face rivals D.C. United with a second place finish on the line.
"We know what's in front of us here," Gregg Berhalter said. "When we win, we're second. There's nothing else to talk about. If we tie, who knows what happens."
It's as simple as that for Crew SC. Defeat United in front of the home fans Sunday evening and the team locks up second place. This means missing the one-game Knockout Round and advancing straight to the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"When you talk about you can be from second to fifth, that has huge implications going forward," Finlay said. "Saying that, this is maybe one of the biggest games that we've played in our last two years. I really believe that because I think if we get that second place spot, I think we have a lot of momentum going into the postseason and you don't want to play a team that has good momentum. It can be huge for us going forward."
Win and you're second. It's that easy. Or is it?
"It's not going to be easy given the fact that D.C. doesn't necessarily have to win to get second. It's going to put us in a tough spot," Berhalter said.
United are also a talented team. The Black & Red spent most of the season atop the East before recently conceding that spot to the New York Red Bulls. A team that dealt with injuries throughout the season is now healthy and comes to MAPFRE Stadium looking for a win of their own to secure second.
"I think what's important to note is this is a veteran team with veteran players and coaches that know how to win in these types of moments," Finlay said. "They know how to win in a playoff atmosphere, away, and we have to be composed, we have to be very patient."
The two teams split the first two contest of the regular season with each team winning at home. United was 2-0 victors at RFK Stadium in early May and Crew SC returned the favor 2-1 at MAPFRE Stadium a little over a month ago.
For the Black & Gold, it's about playing their game and not letting the moment be too big for those on the field.
"If they score early, or even if we score early, sticking to our game plan, not getting out of it," Finlay said. "Because if we score early on them, they're not going to change a whole lot. I really don't believe that. I think it's important for us to stay composed, stay patient, whether we're up, whether we're down, whether it's tied in the 90th minute. I think it's extremely important. I think that will ultimately give us success. It's where we start to panic and kind of lose what our game plan is, is when we have trouble with D.C."
To help the team, the Black & Gold have gone on full attack letting fans know about this game. Crew SC is hoping for a raucous atmosphere Sunday night in what will be a playoff-type game.
"I think we've figured out that when the fans are there - when they're in their seats and when they're cheering - this place is intimidating," Berhalter said of the home stadium. "Think back to some games, even early in the season, where we knew we were winning the game right from the beginning and that's what we want to create on Sunday because this is a huge game."
Simple things are not always as simple as they seem. If Crew SC win, they've achieved the goal of avoiding the Knockout Round and take one step closer to the ultimate goal: MLS Cup.