Despite a run of shaky performances, the Columbus Crew find itself in a position to challenge for the biggest prize in Major League Soccer, the MLS Cup. Following both a Sunday 3-1 win against New York City FC and Atlanta United FC’s 1-0 loss to Toronto FC, the Crew officially booked a spot in the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs.
Sunday’s playoff-clinching victory was the Crew’s first win since Sept. 23, a 2-1 home win against Minnesota United. The 10th win of the season secured the postseason berth for the first time since 2018 when Gregg Berhalter was last in charge. That year, Columbus fell to New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The 2020 postseason will mark the first for head coach Caleb Porter with th Black & Gold since taking over the team prior to the 2019 season which ended with an abysmal 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference. His most recent playoff appearance came in charge of Portland Timbers in 2017 where the side finished first in the Western Conference but fell in the conference semifinals.
This is a feat Black & Gold that fans can be positive about moving forward despite an abundance of recent bad news. Earlier in the week, it was announced that there would be no Supporters’ Shield champion in 2020 due to circumstances revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic, which was primarily due to “the inability for supporters to be in attendance and fill their stadiums with passion goes against the spirit of the Shield”. After being in the lead for the award for a large portion of the season, the Crew dropped down to third in the East with the recent four-game run.
Memories of the tumultuous 2019 Crew season as far as injuries are concerned have begun to show up as well. The Black & Gold are currently without three of their best players in playmaker Lucas Zelarayan, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and goalkeeper Eloy Room, along with defender Vito Wormgoor who’s been out of action since the MLS is Back Tournament. After Sunday’s game against NYCFC, Pedro Santos looked to pick up an injury and was substituted nearly halfway through the second half.
With no Supporters’ Shield on the cards and a playoff spot now clinched, Porter and the Crew may now look to maximize rotation efforts in the buildup to the MLS Cup playoffs, with the true prize coming at the end of a postseason run. If Santos is now forced to miss time for the Crew in the final five games of the regular season, Porter will be lacking options for Zelarayan’s primary No. 10 spot, as well as getting others back.
Currently sitting in third place in the East with 34 points, the Crew would avoid a play-in game in which seeds 7-10 are forced to participate. As of now, the Black & Gold would play sixth-seeded NYCFC at MAPFRE Stadium, who the Crew has beaten twice and lost to once so far in 2020. Columbus closes out their regular season away at Houston Dynamo and D.C. United then consecutively at home against Philadelphia Union and Atlanta with a game at Orlando City to be rescheduled as well.