Tiebreaker scenarios offer grim reading for goal-shy Crew

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An unproductive start of the season – in several ways – may force the Columbus Crew to think beyond merely winning their final four matches in order to make the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

Not only must the Crew play catch-up in the standings, where they sit a point back of fifth-place Houston for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and five behind New York and D.C. United, but they trail the trio in the first two tiebreakers as well.

Columbus have scored 36 goals in 30 games compared to New York’s 50, 47 by D.C. and Houston’s 42. As for the second tiebreaker, goal differential, the Crew are at -1 and probably can’t surpass D.C. (+8), New York (+7) or Houston (+5).

In essence, the Crew (13-11-6, 45 points) actually need to make up two points on the Dynamo and six against the other two clubs, thanks to a sub-.500 record through the first half of the year and an average of just a goal per game through their first 21 matches.

READ: Current Eastern Conference standings

Columbus midfielder Eddie Gaven said the team must concentrate foremost on getting victories.

“It’s about trying to win the games and get as many points as we can,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “We want to get as many goals as we can as well, but more importantly than that, if we can win 1-0 that’d be better than tying 3-3.”

Even a favorable schedule might not be enough to qualify after losing three of their past four matches. 

The first of Columbus’ three homes games is Saturday vs. Philadelphia (7:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online). That’s followed by a visit from Sporting Kansas City on Oct. 7, a potentially critical matchup at D.C. United on Oct. 20 and the finale against Toronto FC in Crew Stadium, where the Crew are unbeaten in six (5-0-1).

There are points to be had, but will it be enough to get wins? Or will the Crew, at some juncture, have to gamble and hunt for more goals?

“You’re not going to be thinking about scoring three goals before you have the first one,” midfielder Milovan Mirosevic said.

READ: MLS standings tie-breaking procedures

Unfortunately for Columbus, Houston and New York also play three of their final four at home, but D.C.’s only game in RFK Stadium is against the Crew. 

The Dynamo host New England, Montreal and Philadelphia before finishing at Colorado. New York entertains Toronto, Chicago and Kansas City, then travels to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, D.C. visit Portland and Toronto, host the Crew, then finish at Chicago.

The schedule may or may not be advantageous for the Crew. Their final game vs. Toronto takes place a day later (Sunday, Oct. 28) than their rivals’ three matches that weekend, so they will have all the scenarios known before they hit the field – including whether they’ll need bushels of goals to make the playoffs.

“You control what you can control and win games,” defender Carlos Mendes said. “If we do that, I think we’ll put ourselves in a good position. We can’t start looking at the tiebreakers.”