The Columbus Crew play host D.C. United on Saturday evening with hopes of extending their unbeaten streak to 14 games, which would be one shy of the league record.
But more importantly, the Crew are looking to beat United for the first time of the season, drawing in their last meeting in Columbus after a draw and a loss in the two encounters at RFK Stadium. The Crew defeated the MetroStars for the first time of the season last weekend and would like to complete the season with at least one victory against every Eastern Conference rival.
"We haven't had a victory against D.C. yet this season. We need to do that," said Crew head coach Greg Andrulis. "It would be great to keep the streak going too."
Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch places a lot of importance on the playoff positioning -- and the Crew are very aware that they could need every point to claim the Eastern Conference championship. "It is another big game. I think that they are all big at this point. It is an Eastern Conference game," said Busch. "Playoff position is on the line. We've solidified that playoff spot, but now we want that home field advantage."
The Crew 'keeper thinks the most vital part of the game is defending his home turf at the beloved Columbus Crew Stadium.
"It is another home game. We need to take care of business at home. That is the most important thing," Busch said.
Busch is not completely happy with playing the last three games on the road. He remembers last year when the Crew were in the mix for a playoff spot only to be eliminated because of poor play on the road late in the season.
"Unfortunately, that (the schedule) is the way it is. I think we had something like that or very similar last season," said Busch. "That is even more reason for us to take care of business now and the next home game so we don't put ourselves in bad position going into those last three on the road."
Last year, the Crew played poorly down the stretch winning just once in a five-game stretch (where four were on the road), before ending the season at home with a 6-2 thrashing of Chicago after already eliminated from the playoffs.
Crew midfielder Frankie Hejduk isn't worried as much with the visit of D.C. United as he is about his team's play.
"They are just our opponent and we are trying to take one day at a time," said Hejduk. "We worry about our brand of soccer and how we're playing right now."
Hejduk also stresses the Crew are not looking too far down the line.
"The important thing is just to take one game at a time. We have been playing well together and peaking at the right time," said the Crew midfielder. "We don't want to get ahead or ourselves and look down the line at all. We try not to think about the streak, just go out and play like we have been playing."
Still, Hejduk said the timing of United's visit is good, despite the lack of Crew success in the first three meetings this season.
"We match up pretty against them and we all have been pretty good games. They are coming into our place and have to beat us," said Hejduk. "They should be the ones worrying a little bit. We're hot and right now we are the team to beat."
United is seven points back of Columbus with four games remaining (Columbus has a game in hand) so even a tie would all but guarantee a Columbus finish ahead of D.C., although D.C. would own the season series advantage. The Crew coach doesn't think that this would give an advantage to D.C. for a potential playoff encounter. "I think the playoffs are a separate season," he said.
But the Crew have learned the value of home field advantage through first-hand experience. During the 2002 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Crew had to play two of the three games away in the Eastern Conference finals against the New England Revolution. Needing a win in the third game to send the series to extra time, Columbus tied 2-2 at New England.
"A couple of years ago that haunted us. We didn't get home field advantage," said Andrulis. "We remember those things."
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.