COLUMBUS, Ohio – The congested, chaotic scene that is the Eastern Conference may ruffle a few teams' feathers between now and the end of the season. The Crew, however won’t be one of them.
Their path is clear.
“It’s all about us,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “We have our destiny in our own hands, so to speak. It’s not like we need help from other teams to make the playoffs.”
The Crew (12-12-8, 44 points) are three points behind Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia, but also just a point above the 10th and final playoff spot held by Houston. Their final two games are at New England on Saturday and at Chicago on Oct. 22.
“Nothing’s going to change what we want to do,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “We’re trying to get as many points as we can.”
There’s no question Columbus are eyeing a third Eastern Conference title in four seasons, but there are other goals to reach before hand — beginning with a basic one.
“Right now it’s just to get into the playoffs,” Gaven said. “Once you’re there, we’ve seen the last two years pretty much anything can happen.”
The Crew were victimized by lower seeds Real Salt Lake in 2009 and Colorado last season, and each went on to win the MLS Cup. If Columbus clinch a postseason berth for a fourth consecutive year, then the next objective is to finish no lower than their current third in the East. That will have them avoid a knockout round featuring the four wild card qualifiers.
Finally, winning the East would ensure the Crew of home-field advantage in the conference semifinals and finals en route to the MLS Cup. That "advantage" hasn’t exactly helped them the past two years, though. Working against the Crew in the battle for positioning is the second tiebreaker after head-to-head competition. Their minus-three goal differential (38-41) is the worst among teams that currently hold playoff spots.
The Crew reserves defeated New York 3-0 on Monday in Crew Stadium to tie Seattle for the league’s best record at 7-1. Rookie Justin Meram had his fourth Reserve League goal in the 16th minute off an assist by non-roster player Jhonny Arteaga, a Colombian who most recently played for FC New York (USL) and has trialed with the Red Bulls this season.
Cole Grossman, another rookie, made it 2-0 in the 42nd minute with MLS all-time goals leader Jeff Cunningham assisting. In the 85th minute, Nigerian trialist Johnny Owoeri scored via Josh Gardner.
The only downside was rookie midfielder Rich Balchan appearing to have reinjured his groin. Balchan, who has missed most of the second half of the season, was substituted in the 55th minute.
Nonetheless, Warzycha was pleased with the day's work. The Crew have taken the Reserve League seriously all year in an effort to build depth while building the confidence of a young roster.
“I can’t speak for other teams but I can tell you what we’re doing,” Warzycha said. “We’re giving these guys a chance to be on the field, especially the ones that don’t play too many games.”