The Columbus Crew has finished the push to make the MLS Cup playoffs. The team’s 3-1 win Sunday night against New York City FC coupled with Toronto FC’s 1-0 victory over Atlanta United was enough to put that “x” next to their name on the league’s table. But the job isn’t finished. Even with the postseason secured, that isn’t close to enough for a team that has made it clear that it has bigger goals.
After Decision Day on Nov. 8, the playoffs will begin with its expanded format. If the season were to end today, the Black & Gold would hold the three seed and host the quarterfinal match but wouldn’t be guaranteed to host a game against either of the top-two seeds, which currently stand as Toronto FC and the Philadelphia Union.
For head coach Caleb Porter, the ultimate goal is still MLS Cup and pushing for seeding helps create a clearer path to reach that championship game.
“I think it’s nice to obviously be in a position where we are in the playoffs but you know that’s just the first step,” Porter said on Thursday.” To win an MLS Cup, you have to be in the playoffs. It’s great to be in with five games to go but we have bigger fish to fry. Obviously, we want to win the MLS Cup and to do that, you want as many home games as possible. For sure, we are going to be fighting for seeding and home games, because it gives you a better chance to win it and if we are in it to win it, we want home games.”
For the Crew, preventing injuries and rotating will be important in order to have top players on the squad are available come playoff time. Goalkeeper Eloy Room, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and playmaker Lucas Zelarayan are all expected to play some part in the Houston Dynamo game this Saturday and with four games left after that contest, staying healthy, something the team has struggled with the last two seasons, will be crucial to be able to push for the top-seed.
Captain Jonathan Mensah, who just recently received a contract extension to stay in Columbus, said “To win MLS Cup, I think home advantage counts. So the more points we have, the more the advantage in our favor kind of grows.”
More often than not, Mensah is correct. The last three MLS Cup winners earned the right to host the final thanks to being the higher seed afer the regular season. In fact, since 2011, the host of the MLS Cup won the final seven times and lost twice. The two home teams to lose were the Crew in 2015 and Toronto in 2016.
Getting the top seed will be a tough task for Porter and his squad with just five games left. Columbus has a game in hand on Toronto and Philadelphia and winning that game would put the Crew one point behind the Union and four behind the Reds for the top spot in the East and the top overall seed.
As of this writing, the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference all have more points than the top team in the West — the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers are tied on 31 points. If this holds, this would mean any of those four Eastern Conference teams would host the MLS Cup Final.
Columbus has three road trips to Houston, D.C. United and Orlando City plus two home matches against Philadelphia and Atlanta United to end the season. Toronto will play Philadelphia, NYCFC, Inter Miami and the New Yor Red Bulls in that span, so to get that top spot, the Crew would need to win out while TFC would have to drop points in at least two of those games.
It’s not impossible, but it will certainly take consistent victories and a little bit of luck for the Black & Gold.