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Schedule breakdown: The Crew has a tough stretch to conclude 2020

The Black & Gold will have some grueling road trips and difficult home opponents to end the regular season.

Chicago Fire FC v Orlando City SC Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

For the final time in 2020, Columbus Crew SC released a portion of its schedule on Tuesday. This comes after Major League Soccer’s initial schedule was delayed and then canceled due to COVID-19. After the unique MLS is Back Tournament in mid-summer, the league has put out its schedule in segments as it learns how to handle a strange season.

But now the final nine games of the 2020 season for the Crew have been released. There is a lot to dissect with these upcoming games that will start after the Columbus match in Connecticut against Toronto FC on Sunday. Let’s break it down.

Texas trips

The Crew’s only games against Western Conference opposition have been the draw at the Seattle Sounders in March, the MLS is Back loss to Minnesota United and the upcoming Minnesota rematch in MAPFRE Stadium on Wednesday. Columbus will only play two more West opponents in the regular season and both games will be in the Lone Star State.

These games for the Black & Gold will begin what will be a stretch of five out of seven games on the road in Frisco as the Crew faces FC Dallas on Oct. 3. Dallas currently sits in the top three out West and is on a three-game winning streak. Dallas surely will pose a test to the Black & Gold’s backline as a team that has scored 19 goals this year.

The other Texas road trip will be on Oct.. 24 when Columbus heads to BBVA Stadium to play the Houston Dynamo. Tab Ramos’ side is outside the top eight in the West and would not make the playoffs if the season ended today. The Dynamo has a close to even goal differential but it’s always difficult to travel to Houston.

Besides the challenge the Texas teams will bring to the Crew, the travel will be the hardest one to date. These two trips to Dallas and Texas will be the furthest the Black & Gold has made since early in the year. It’s also worth noting, Columbus hasn’t had the best form on the road, with no wins in the team’s last three true road games.

The East road trips

The Eastern Conference road trips aren’t much easier for the Crew with two away matches in October within the conference. On Oct. 11, the team will fly to Orlando, Florida for what could be a very entertaining game against Orlando City SC. Nani, Chris Mueller and company have had a great season with an MLS is Back silver medal and a top-three spot in the East as it currently stands.

Columbus’ other East away game is three days before Halloween in the nation’s capital against a D.C. United side with former Crew players Federico Higuain and Ola Kamara. It’ll be Higuain’s first game against his former Columbus teammates. On paper, United is the Crew’s weakest opponent to end the regular season.

Two big conference matches on the road with the travel to Florida and D.C. means Columbus will have to be road warriors to end the season if the team wants the potential privilege of home field advantage throughout the MLS Cup.

Four re-matches

Amongst the nine games to end the 2020 season are four re-matches. The first one will be on Oct. 14 as Columbus and FC Cincinnati will play their fourth Hell is Real Derby of the year. The Crew has won two and drawn one against its Ohio rivals. The one draw was at Nippert Stadium, where this game will be played, so it will be a chance to get a road victory over Jaap Stam’s parked bus.

A few days later, on Oct. 18, the Black & Gold will host New York City FC in the teams’ third encounter of 2020. The first meeting was the season opener on March 1 in a pre-COVID world where Lucas Zelarayan smacked home a winner in front of a full crowd. The second contest was in August and was the only loss for the Crew this season.

The final two games of the regular season are both re-matches as well and also both at home. Columbus will reunite with the Philadelphia Union on Nov. 1 and then close out the season against Atlanta United on Nov. 8. Columbus played each team once and were winners in each encounter.

Match congestion

It will be a grueling and tiring end to the regular season as the Crew is set to play seven matches in October. Starting with the FC Dallas game on Oct. 3, Columbus will begin a pattern of playing a game followed by three days of rest before the next contest. This stretch runs until Oct. 18 before the Black & Gold finally gets a full week to rest.

Congestion has already caused some injuries for the Crew and that could pose even more potential issues, especially as the playoff push gets more serious. Staying healthy will be of the utmost importance for everyone in MLS with all teams having this kind of match congestion. Expect plenty of rotation for Columbus throughout this difficult stretch.

ABC game

Maybe the most fascinating reveal from the newly-released schedule was the fact the Crew will play a game on an actual national network. The Nov. 1 home match against the Union will air on ABC with a time yet to be announced. Despite facing the Chicago Fire on TUDN during Phase One, this will be the first truly nationally televised broadcast, outside of the MLS is Back Tournament, this season and dating back to the Aug. 25 game against Cincinnati last season.

The match will likely have some good storylines as it will be the second-to-last regular season home match at MAPFRE Stadium on Halloween weekend. Additionally, if the standings continue as currently lined up, it might be a first vs. second encounter in the East. This is certainly a date for MLS fans to mark on their calendar.

When the Crew can clinch a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs

Crew fans might get a chance to celebrate clinching a playoff spot pretty early compared to other seasons. The new MLS Cup playoff format sees 10 teams clinching the postseason in the Eastern Conference with eight teams getting a ticket punched from the West. With the high volume amount of teams getting into the postseason, spots will be clinched far earlier than usual.

For a team like Columbus, who sits 16 points above 11th-place Inter Miami, it’s not ridiculous to say the Crew could secure a playoff spot in the next two weeks. It’ll take a spectacular fall from grace and incredible runs from other teams for the Crew to fall out of the top-10 in the East. The question isn’t whether Columbus makes the playoffs but when and if the team gets the number one seed.