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Columbus Crew SC getting on the right side of match congestion

From foe to friend, Crew SC are now the rested team.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The first half of the 2017 season for Columbus Crew SC can be summarized in two words: match congestion.

There is no doubt that Crew SC fans have been extremely busy supporting the club over the first stretch matches. The Black & Gold are tied with Orlando City for the most games played this year thus far at 18. Columbus sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and nine division foes have at least one game in hand.

Including the U.S. Open Cup game, Crew SC has already experienced three weeks of at least two matches in seven days or less. Coming off the back of a Wednesday game, the Black & Gold are 1-2 on the year.

Last Saturday, the Columbus players enjoyed the reverse against a Montreal Impact squad who had a midweek game against Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship before coming to MAPFRE Stadium.

A nice change of pace for the Crew SC?

“It is,” head coach Gregg Berhalter agreed in the buildup to that match.

The Black & Gold were tied 1-1 with the Impact in the second half until a stretch just after the 70th minute where Columbus gained control with over 90 percent possession as fatigue set in for Montreal. That’s when Crew SC score. And then scored again.

Zack Steffen had a unique view on the eventual 4-1 victory from his penalty box and noticed a difference as the match wore.

“They were tired and we had that extra spark,” he said. “We kind of just killed them at the end. The guys did great.”

This advantage for the Black & Gold is something the team was yet to experience this season. In the prior meeting with the Impact, Columbus came in on a short week with players like Justin Meram logging 262 minutes of game time during that stretch.

In last week’s contest the tables were turned, and Columbus was the beneficiary of playing a side on short rest.

Luck smiles on Crew SC again this Saturday.

Atlanta United traveled to take on Miami FC in the U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night, a 3-2 loss. The Five Stripes have a short turnaround before having to journey to Columbus for a match Saturday night at MAPFRE.

Although they played a mostly a reserve group, this is still a disadvantage for the Five Stripes. Atlanta will still have to do some shuffling of the lineup even if most of the starters did not make the trip.

“When you’re traveling and playing games so close together it’s hard to get a good week of training in,” Columbus defender Josh Williams explained.

Columbus’ depth has been tested this season and Williams has seen a lot of minutes in recent weeks. Most recently, he came in as a sub for Nicolai Naess against FC Cincinnati and started in the first match against United and the contest with the Impact.

The difference between those two MLS appearances was he was game fit from playing, but also got the necessary rest to have his body ready.

“That’s the best I felt all year in the 85th minute,” Williams reflected.

Berhalter wasn’t going to get his hopes up about seeing a weakened Atlanta squad this weekend. He remained uncertain on Tuesday whether the Open Cup match will spell an advantage for his team.

“It could,” he said. “I don’t know who’s playing for them midweek though.”

Crew SC certainly would have liked to host the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night for a chance to advance again in the Open Cup. But with a week of normal training, this will allow the team to focus on Saturday and getting three more points in MLS before the Gold Cup break.