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Regular season done, Crew ‘shift’ focus to MLS Cup run

The Black & Gold now have to go into playoff mode

Atlanta United FC v Columbus Crew SC Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Columbus Crew’s 2020 Major League Soccer regular season is in the books. The Black & Gold tied up the unprecedented campaign last Saturday with a 2-1 win at home against Atlanta United. That victory, combined with other results around the Eastern Conference, meant the Crew finished in third place.

“A great way to close out the regular season,” head coach Caleb Porter said after the game. “It has been a long road to this point, through a lot of adversity. COVID, injuries, two or three different restarts, it has been a crazy journey. But I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”

With that third-place finish comes a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs. Columbus will now host the New York Red Bulls at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21 in the team’s first postseason game in two years.

And the playoffs is where the attention now turns for the Black & Gold.

“In the playoffs, you win, you go on; you lose, you’re done,” forward Gyasi Zardes said. “It’s a different ballgame. Teams are going to bring their A-game. This season is behind us. Now we focus and we have to shift.”

From the time Porter took over the Crew ahead of the 2019 season, he has not shied away from forming expectations and the team’s stated goal of winning the MLS Cup. Porter made it clear that Columbus has not won enough championships and needs to put trophies in the trophy case.

Porter’s first year did not go as planned as the team made the shift from Gregg Berhalter to the new head coach. But in year two, the Black & Gold had a goal to return to the playoffs and make a run for championships.

Despite the broken up season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Crew did just that. For much of the year, the team sat at the top of the MLS standings but a tough stretch over the last month and a half that coincided with injuries to key players saw a dip in form.

In Porter’s mind, the performances over the last eight months were an accomplishment.

“The regular season is done, and I told the guys that they need to remember what they did over that regular season because this is a bottom-line business,” the head coach said. “And everybody knows that, everybody talks about that. The bottom line is, based on the games that we’ve had, and the points that we got, this is one of the best seasons in club history. And the way that we ended as well and the overall league standings, it’s the highest in the last 12 years. So those are things that no one will remember, but those are things that we should appreciate.”

Porter, a veteran coach in MLS, knows the only thing that will be remembered ultimately is which team lifts the MLS Cup trophy in mid-December. Having gone through a number of playoff runs in the past, winning the Cup once, he understands what it takes to get to that point, especially after such a grueling season.

“We’re in it to win it,” Porter continued. “We’re not happy being in it. We’re in it to win it. And (with) a home game, I can’t wait to get back on the pitch. I can’t wait to improve on some things and I can’t wait to be in that first playoff game at MAPFRE (Stadium).”

Talk is one thing, and the Crew has talked the talk for the last two years. Action will come on the field in just over a week and, the Black & Gold hope, for three more games beyond that.

Columbus showed at times throughout the regular season that it has the talent to be the best team in MLS but only one side will claim that title with a trophy. With attention now shifted from the regular season to the playoffs, the Crew believes they will be that team when all is said and done.

“This team wants to leave a legacy in 2020,” Porter said. “We know 2008, that’s the one everybody has talked about forever and we want to be the next, the next one. That’s our goal, that’s our vision and that’s what we’re going to fight for.”