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Back-to-back results for the Crew helped the belief get stronger at a key time

Momentum is pushing the Black & Gold back into the MLS Cup playoff hunt

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew have a small two-match streak without a loss. Usually, that’s not something that sticks out as a reason to celebrate, but the way this summer has gone for the defending MLS Cup champions, it’s a step in a welcomed direction.

After a 1-0 victory against Atlanta United on July 24, the Crew lost six straight games, a stretch that felt like it lasted for months. In reality, the four-week slide down the MLS standings put the Black & Gold in a pinch. If Columbus continued the slide, the team’s chances at making the MLS Cup playoffs were at risk of becoming a pipe dream.

The Crew’s playoff chances still aren’t great now, four points behind the seventh and final playoff spot with more games played than their competition. That doesn’t mean the Black & Gold’s odds are impossible, but the only way the playoffs become a reality again is through earning points. Columbus has done that, earning four in the last two matches, and captain and center back Jonathan Mensah is ready to keep the points coming.

“Playing against any team in the league, of course you want to get points, especially New England being leaders of the league,” reflecting on Saturday’s 1-1 away draw against the top team in the MLS, the New England Revolution. “Now you want to go out there and get some results. Take that momentum against a team that’s really good, heading into the weekend.”

Saturday night, the momentum has the chance to keep going. The Crew welcomes fifth place CF Montreal to Lower.com Field. The Black & Gold sit five spots behind their Canadian foes, but Columbus has thrived at home of late. Even though the team’s last two matches required comebacks to earn three points, head coach Caleb Porter sees that as another level of advantage the team can channel.

“We’re starting to get some soul in that new stadium,” said Porter of Lower.com Field, which opened this summer. “Now we can go muscle memory, ‘We won the last two home games,’ when we came from behind and had an unbelievable mentality. That belief in a new building doesn’t happen on paper. It happens through feelings and emotions and actually getting the job done.”

The Black & Gold will need to get the job done with playmakers missing. Starting goalkeeper Eloy Room is out for Saturday due to a thigh injury sustained in Columbus’ draw against New England. On the injury list with him is center back Vito Wormgoor who is out due to health and safety protocols.

Fortunately, the absences haven’t hampered the mood in the locker room. The impact of a couple of good results is a crazy thing and this week in training, following two matches without a loss, the mood wasn’t down. It was the opposite.

“This was the best week of training we’ve had all season. The sharpness, the competition,” said Porter, sharing his excitement for the change of team mentality. “It’s important to have that competition.”

For the first time all season, Columbus didn’t need any Academy players to fill the practice roster and the Crew had a 10 v. 10 scrimmage with all first-team players. This meant starters played next to starters and built the intensity for the end of the season.

While that doesn’t change the injury status of offensive standouts like midfielders Lucas Zelarayan, Pedro Santos and Luis Diaz, who are all questionable for the match on Saturday night, it shows that the players that are fully participating are doing so at the highest level, a level the team hasn’t shown since the 2020 season.

In the COVID-altered year, Columbus ended the season lifting the MLS Cup because of the players’ team mentality. Those sports adages of playing with a chip on your shoulder or refusing to lose are only so because of the truth connected with them. The Crew defied expectations and came together as a unit. Porter sees that building in the Black & Gold right now.

“You can only build if you’re getting results,” said Porter. “I think our guys are starting to gain that feeling and belief.”

Now the belief has to turn into sets of three points if Columbus has any hope of repeating the team’s 2020 accomplishment.