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Orlando City SC Game Presents Chance to Increase Eastern Conference Position for Columbus Crew SC

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Berhalter is looking at the conference as a whole for each game.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

At kickoff Saturday night, Columbus Crew SC will be seven points - or just over two wins - ahead of Orlando City SC.

The two sides meet in a pivotal match in the Eastern Conference. If Orlando can manage a win at home, what would be the team's first over the Black & Gold, they would likely move up the standings and within four points of Crew SC with a game in hand.

If Columbus can get its second road victory on the year, the Black & Gold will stretch the gap between itself and the Lions to 10 points and increase playoff chances.

While this is a reality, it's not how Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter views the match.

"I don't think we're focusing that much on Orlando City," he said of distancing the team from Orlando. "It's the whole Eastern Conference."

Berhalter certainly has a point. Columbus sits in second place in a tight East, seven points behind D.C. United. The New York Red Bulls are two points back of Crew SC and Toronto FC and the New England Revolution are each a point behind the Red Bulls.

The rest of the East is just as tight with the Montreal Impact, New York City FC, and OCSC all tied on 24 points for the final playoffs spot and the Philadelphia Union just two points back of the log jam.

Things get tricky due to teams with different number of matches played.

United and New England have played the most games in the East with 23, while Crew SC and Philadelphia have each played 22. Montreal has played the fewest games in the conference with just 19 matches completed on the year.

When Berhalter says they need to get points against other teams in the East, he's not kidding.

"I think any time you play an Eastern Conference team, you want to get maximum points," he stated.

On points per game, the East looks a bit different. D.C. still leads, but the Black & Gold drop to fourth in the standings behind the Red Bulls and TFC.

As Berhalter has pointed out this season though, games in hand don't mean anything unless a team wins them. While New York, Toronto, and the Impact have multiple matches to catch the Black & Gold, those games must translate into three points to be worth much of anything.

Another factor is that these East teams all play each other. In a league of parity, nothing is guaranteed and some teams will naturally fall off.

While Columbus isn't necessarily in the driver's seat for its playoff position at this point, it is in a good spot. Having more points already earned is a better situation than hoping you get them.

Because teams have games in hand over Crew SC, the focus cannot just be on increasing the gap for one team. Columbus must keep on winning so other teams have a more difficult time catching up.