Columbus Crew surging toward final playoff spot
With four games remaining in their 2013 season, the Columbus Crew are in the midst of their best soccer of the season, and surging toward the final playoff spot in MLS's Eastern Conference.
With a 3-0 win over rivals Chicago Fire last Saturday, the Crew have won three of four matches, and are just two points out of a playoff spot in the crowded middle of the East. Of the four games, the last two will pit the Crew against the New England Revolution, who currently sit in fifth place, the final playoff spot. Interim Head Coach Brian Bliss made it clear that those two matches are the most important on the schedule.
“Well, four games is 12 points. If we get nine points, six of those against New England, I think that would (get us in the playoffs),” he said. “If we don't get six against New England, it's probably going to take ten [points.]”
Despite the run of form and the impending back-to-back New England games, Bliss says that it is still paramount for the team to focus on the games at hand, including Sunday's trip to face FC Dallas.
“It's a cliché, but it is just one game at a time,” he said. “We can't even think about New England. Because if we don't do well in the next two games, the New England games will be meaningless. Guys are smart enough, they know that.”
As the season dwindles, defender Tyson Wahl, a 7-year MLS veteran, said that the intensity change is obvious, and that it is the responsibility of he and the other veterans to keep up the team's aggressiveness when the matches start to be the most vital.
“I think it's really important to have some MLS experienced players on the field right now, because the games do change in the last five, six, seven games,” he said. “Even at the ten game countdown, teams start to get a little tighter, a little bit stressed out or they're just playing more aggressively and it's more intense.”
Wahl pointed to the weekend's victory as a match that had that potential, but a lucky break in the form of an early red card kept the match mainly one-sided.
“The chicago game would definitely have been a playoff atmosphere if they didn't get the red card,” he said. “So that's what you can expect from here on out.”
For Bliss, the added intensity of the end of the season has only fueled the team, and the coach said he thinks his players have stepped up to the challenge rather than shying from it.
“I think being in the hunt is driving the guys to be better every day, and answer the bell,” he said. “I can't complain; the guys have taken to task, and they're focused for the four or five days leading up to each game, and they've done well.”
For Winger Dominic Oduro, who scored in the Chicago win, the team's playoff chances are more of a reality than ever.
“We're right behind (Chicago) right now, in terms of making the playoffs, so that put pressure on them, and that's good for us,” he said after the match. “We're going to go to Dallas [next Sunday] and try to get a result. If we take care of business, hopefully other teams will help us out. As long as there are games, there's always hope. But we're right there.”
Wahl's outlook was a bit more realistic.
“For us, we're still on the outside looking in, but it's becoming more and more possible,” he said. “I think every game is a playoff-type game.”