Columbus Crew SC missed an opportunity last weekend. With New York City FC’s 2-1 loss to Minnesota United, all the Black & Gold needed was to defeat the Philadelphia Union on Saturday to officially clinch a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs.
But instead, Columbus drew 0-0 at home against the Union despite having the only two shots on goal of the game.
“Honestly, I heard that for the first time yesterday that we could clinch if we won,” goalkeeper Zack Steffen said after the game. “I think it’s weird that we didn’t really talk about it at all this week.”
According to head coach Gregg Berhalter, he didn’t address it with the team because a win alone wasn’t enough to clinch a playoff spot; Crew SC needed NYCFC to fall.
“You can’t go into a game projecting that,” he said. “There wasn’t any focus on that.”
Maybe if the Black & Gold had discussed that possibility, there would have been a bit more urgency to grab the game winner against Philadelphia but at this time of year, it shouldn’t take any extra motivation for teams to win.
Regardless of what happened last week, the opportunity is there in Saturday’s games at the Montreal Impact. At least a tie at Stade Suputo against the Impact would be enough to book the team’s postseason trip.
This week, everyone is what aware of what’s at stake.
“I think we just know it now,” captain Wil Trapp said. “I don’t think last week we knew, honestly. So yeah, we understand where we’re at in the table, that New York City lost and that we can make up more ground”
What’s interesting is that Crew SC has expected to be in the playoffs pretty much all season. After coming within one goal of hosting the MLS Cup Final a year ago, the Black & Gold were motivated to get back to the postseason and make another run.
After starting the season unbeaten in the first four games, including four points on the road, Columbus has been in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and above the line to qualify nearly all of the year. Despite the Union’s push of late, that has not changed and the team has remained confident in making the playoffs.
With that said, it’s always nice to have that spot clinched.
“I think every year you want to get it done officially. So it’s always a big deal,” Berhalter said. “There’s 11 teams that don’t get to play, so it’s an honor to make the playoffs, I think it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work throughout the season to get there and it’s always special. It never gets old.”
Yes, the Black & Gold certainly want to lock up the postseason spot but their goals go further than just making the playoffs. With 48 points and three games remaining, Crew SC can climb as high as third in the East. The team will need some help, New York City not winning its last two games, but with a game in hand, the team is focused on climbing as high as possible.
“We’re five points back with a game in hand and we’d like to make it interesting if we can,” Berhalter said.
It won’t be easy for Columbus to keep things interesting this week. The Impact has only lost four times at home all season and is in a desperate situation with D.C. United now only two points back for the final playoff spot in the East.
“Montreal is going to be hungry,” Trapp said. “They have D.C. that they just lost too and they’re hot on their heels with a couple games in hand.”
For Crew SC, playing another intense game is a good thing. Like last week against Philly, the Black & Gold want to be playing other teams with postseason aspirations in order to keep the intensity high as they, likely, head into the playoffs.
The team also wants to be battle tested and prove to themselves that they’re ready to make a run again this year.
“I think it’s just continuing to be hungry,” Trapp said.
“We know that it’s going to be another playoff-type of matchup and that’s what we want this time of year.”