OBETZ, Ohio — The Columbus Crew are entering a stretch in which midweek games are twice bracketed by weekend matches, but no one is complaining about the schedule this year.
Even with an additional four MLS games this season, the Crew have a much easier task than in 2010, when they also competed in the CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup, leaving them staggering to the finish line.
“Last year was really ridiculous,” midfielder Kevin Burns said.
Beginning with Saturday’s match against visiting Toronto FC, the Crew have only eight MLS games left in the regular season, split evenly between home and road. Columbus didn’t qualify for the Champions League and exited the Open Cup in June, so unlike last year, their total focus is on maintaining first in the Eastern Conference.
Compare that with 2010 when from Sept. 1 through the season finale they had nine road games and five more at home. They played in three countries across three time zones in three competitions and had six midweek matches over the final seven weeks.
They had to deal with four CCL games, a USOC semifinal at D.C. United, the final at Seattle and eight league matches.
Then they had to start the playoffs at Colorado only four days after ending the regular season and eight days past a match in Trinidad and Tobago. The Crew lost the game and eventually the series to the Rapids.
“By that game we were just shot,” Burns said.
The Crew should benefit from another open weekend on Oct. 8-9, allowing them to recharge for the last two games at New England and Chicago.
“We should be rested and feeling pretty good physically heading into the final stretch,” defender Chad Marshall said.
Columbus will play every team in the East except New York and also host the LA Galaxy on Sept. 24. With a favorable schedule and time for recovery, everything is aligned for the Crew to win the conference.
“We still have to play the games,” defender Julius James said. “It’s what we make of it. We could go and break down and it wouldn’t have lined up like we thought it would. Or, we can go in there and play every game as if it’s the last game and create some distance.”