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Columbus Crew SC celebrates playoff spot, targets home-field advantage

With its postseason ticket guaranteed, the Black & Gold now aim to improve their seed.

MLS: D.C. United at Columbus Crew SC Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It is done.

Columbus Crew SC is back to the MLS Cup playoffs after a one-year hiatus.

The 2-0 win over D.C. United on Saturday not only clinched the Black & Gold’s spot in the postseason, but also resonated loudly in the team’s locker room as the players and head coach Gregg Berhalter celebrated the achievement.

Advancing to the playoffs has a special meaning for Crew SC as the team didn’t compete in the postseason last year, only one season after its last MLS Cup appearance. The feelings of relief and satisfaction were present in the locker room as the players enjoyed the achievement.

“That's what’s expected,” midfielder and captain Wil Trapp said. “We're expected to make the playoffs. In our quality, our style of play, we feel like we should be one of the teams competing for the MLS Cup every year. Last year was obviously a major disappointment for all of us, as players, for the coaching staff, for the fans, for the club as a whole. This is where we belong, that’s what we feel.”

I guess you can say the last game of the regular season was a BŁÃ$T #playoffbound #blessed 9️⃣

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With a good number of players returning from 2016, the frustration was obviously a motivation as the team approached the new season. The failure was constantly brought up by players and fans when the team performed below the expected level.

With the postseason ticket now guaranteed, it’s time to put 2016 definitely in the past and focus on what the team is accomplishing this season.

“It’s closing the door on great disappointment of last year,” Berhalter said. “No one was satisfied with last year. The tone was set pretty early on in preseason about how hard we were going to work, of what we were going to do to get back to this point. Give the guys all the credit in the world because they stayed disciplined and focused enough to actually achieve it.”

With the first goal reached, the team thinks ahead. Currently sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 50 points, Crew SC is in position to compete with the Chicago Fire (52) and Atlanta United (53) for the third and fourth spots heading to the playoffs. The team can still reach second-seeded New York City FC, but it would depend of an unlikely combination of results.

Moving to the third or fourth seeds would give Columbus the big advantage of hosting the first round single-leg game instead of going on the road against a dangerous team. Considering the Black & Gold were extremely strong at MAPFRE Stadium in the regular season, where they set a new club record with 12 wins in 17 games, that’s definitely something to fight for.

“That was the first thing Gregg said,” defender Josh Williams said following the clincing win. “He said ‘Congratulations, but we are not done.’ We checked off some objectives we talked about in the beginning of the year and now it’s time to make new objectives. It’s not a surprise for us. We expected to be here in the end of the year and now we still have two more games to lock up a home spot. That’s all we really want. We are fighting for home field”.

The two matches remaining for Crew SC also have the potential of being good tests for the playoffs if the team ultimately ends in the lower side of the qualified teams. Orlando City Stadium and New York City FC’s Yankee Stadium are two of the toughest places to play in MLS and amassing good results in these matches could give the team more confidence to perform on road.

“We have some challenges in front of us,” Berhalter said. “We go to Orlando in a difficult place to play and we have to test ourselves, we have to see if we can get something out of that game. Then we go to New York and in all likelihood they are going to be playing for something as well. I’m looking forward to it and I think that the guys are as well because we have two very good tests before the playoffs and that’s what we are going to need to prepare.”