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Crew confident with COVID-19 containment, game plan going into Nashville SC match

It’s been an unexpected week for the Crew in preparation for the MLS Cup playoff game against Nashville.

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

Sunday night’s MLS Cup playoff match will go on as planned between the Columbus Crew and Nashville SC at MAPFRE Stadium. At least for now. After six Crew players tested positive for COVID-19 over the last week, no Columbus players received positive tests on Friday night.

Those six players are all self-isolating as is Major League Soccer’s protocol. Head coach Caleb Porter gave an update on how the COVID-positive players are doing as the team has made changes in regards to the Black & Gold’s match preparation.

“Of course, I’ve been in touch with all the players,” Porter said. on Saturday. “They are feeling good. They are all asymptomatic and they are all healthy and safe.”

The Black & Gold finished third in the Eastern Conference at the end of a tricky MLS season. The Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls at MAPFRE Stadium last Sunday 3-2 in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs to advance to the East semifinal. By virtue of a 3-0 win against fellow MLS expansion side Inter Miami in the play-in game and a 1-0 victory on the road against No. 2 seed Toronto FC, Nashville earned the right to take on Columbus on Sunday.

But the game being played as scheduled became uncertain when it was announced on Wednesday that four Crew players tested positive for COVID-19. Two more positive tests were announced on Friday. But with no more positive tests, the game is expected to be played on Sunday evening as scheduled.

With the Columbus players feeling healthy and no new positive tests as of this writing, the medical professionals working with the Crew and MLS gave Porter and the Crew the confidence that the virus has been contained and they can safely play Sunday’s playoff match.

“It’s been a long week and it’s been challenging but obviously, we’ve got this game tomorrow that the players are looking forward to,” Porter said. “They are looking forward to it because they feel safe and they feel confident based on the experts’ advice and the league advice that it’s contained. If it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t be excited for the game and we wouldn’t want to play the game.”

The positive tests have changed wheat the Black & Gold thought would be a normal game week. The players have not been able to do the same amount of team training for this week compared to the two weeks ahead of the first MLS Cup playoff match against the Red Bulls. Midfielder Artur explained that the team had “restrictions to train for a few days.”

“The coaching staff guided us through this,” the Brazilian said. “We did one day of individual training and everything. There are no excuses for sure, it’s not normal. We did not have a normal week but everybody is ready to play tomorrow and to win the game and that’s the important thing we talked about.”

Even with the unexpected positive COVID cases, the Black & Gold haven’t lost their focus and confidence for their game plan heading into the Nashville match. Winger Pedro Santos mentioned that Nashville plays “similar to New York Red Bulls,” which helps after the stop-and-start week as the Crew just worked through that game plan.

“They like to play direct and fight for the second balls,” Santos said. “We need to be focused all game and we know we can beat them because we beat them once but obviously, we need to be focused all game. If we make a mistake, they can score in transition.”

Distractions have been something Columbus has dealt with all season along with lineup experimentation and rotation. Even though this has been the worst week the team has had all season in regards to coronavirus cases, Porter said, “Our guys believe that nothing is gonna stop us.”

The Crew will face Nashville in the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. No fans will be allowed to attend the match at MAPFRE Stadium. Once again, a limited amount of family and friends will be at the game.