Columbus Crew facing long odds to make playoffs

BY foxsports • July 25, 2013

It may be July and MLS hasn’t even played their All-Star game, but the Columbus Crew are already facing long odds to making the MLS Cup playoffs this year. June and July was going to be a turning point in the 2013 season. They had nine games on the schedule, seven of them were against the Eastern Conference. It was a make or break stretch and it’s come close to breaking the Crew’s playoff hopes.
During the pivotal summer months, they have gone The Black and Gold have slowly slipped down the table the with crushing losses to Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and New England. Last minute goals, defensive lapses, punchless offense, The Crew seemingly found new ways to drop points every week. They went 2-5-1 with a -5 goal differential.
The abysmal form has taken it’s toll on the standings. The Crew could have vaulted into a playoff spot with a home win against Houston in early June, but now they are now six points behind that same Dynamo team for 5th place. While Columbus has struggled the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire have passed them. They now lie in 8th place in the East and have the 4th worst record in the entire league.
Columbus is struggling to find the right pieces. The MLS transfer window is wide open and teams are bringing in new faces to spur a late run. The Fire are bringing aboard Ecuadorian Juan Luis Anangonó as a Designated Player and are looking to offload the disappointing Sherjill MacDonald. The Impact brought in a second DP in Argentine Hernán Bernardello. Bradley Wright-Phillips joins New York from England. Columbus has been silent.
The Crew Front Office has repeatedly stated that they aren’t looking to retool the team and bring in an impact player. The team lacks space in the MLS Salary budget. They will be relying on the impact players they will be getting back.
Forward Jairo Arrieta’s 2013 season has been a disappointment. He’s only scored twice and briefly lost his starting job. Since the beginning of June, he’s missed five games due to being called up by the Costa Rican National Team. He even scored once in Gold Cup action earlier this month. Despite the paucity of goals in 2013, Arrieta is one of the best pure goal scores that the Crew have. Not having him as an option has hurt.
The second player close to returning was also seen as a key cog to a successful 2013 campaign. Midfielder Agustin Viana started eight games before suffering a pulled hamstring on April 27th. He had just displaced Tyson Wahl as starter at left back in that game. Since the injury he’s missed 12 games and the Crew have still been looking for a left back. Wahl started nine more games before rookie Chad Barson took over for three. Viana’s return gives the staff a few more options on that left side.
Viana and Arrieta won’t create the excitement that a new signing would, but they are veteran players who can add something to the offense or defense. That’s something the Crew sorely need right now as they struggle in the heat of midseason play.
The Schedule
The Crew’s schedule through the rest of the year isn’t kind. They have the toughest remaining schedule of anyone in the Eastern Conference. Though they play a perennially terrible Toronto FC side twice, they also play some of the top teams in the league. They face off against Houston twice and Sporting Kansas City twice, including a second trip of the season to the imposing Sporting Park.
The Crew’s Western Conference opponents also present a stern test. Columbus have a trip to MLS leading Salt Lake in August before Seattle and Sigi Schmid comes to town a week later. They then take a late September jaunt to Dallas. 
Columbus has 14 games left and only one midweek game. They should be rested and fully focused for the stretch run. They have to be, 8 of their opponents are in playoff position.
The Wrong Kind of History
The Crew have missed the playoffs six times in their seventeen year history and only once has it been in consecutive seasons. Columbus struggled from 2005 through 2007, failing to get into the post season three straight years. It may be a little harder to make the playoffs in the modern, expanded MLS, but it’s still rare that the Crew are on the outside looking in. They are facing that prospect for the second year in a row.
If the Crew want to grab hold of any playoff chances, they have to win, starting this week with Toronto. There are 14 games left, 42 points up for grabs, but they can’t have results like against the Revolution last Saturday. Any tie or loss, especially against a fellow Eastern Conference foe only puts them further from the Playoffs.
Their odds are already long and the road they face is tough, but it’s also the best test to show they belong in the playoffs. They’ve struggled to be consistent. They haven’t gotten results at home. If they want to prove they are a playoff team, they get a chance to beat the best to do it.