A win for the Columbus Crew against the MetroStars on Saturday night -- or a loss for the New England Revolution against the Colorado Rapids in their simultaneous fixture -- will clinch a playoff spot for the Crew.
In a league where the majority of teams make the playoffs, that might not seem a big deal. But that would not do justice to the odd team looking in from the outside.
A year ago, the Crew were that team. Yes, they did crush eventual Eastern Conference champion Chicago Fire 6-2 on the final day of the season. Yes, they did have two more points than the playoff-bound Los Angeles Galaxy. But neither of those facts consoled the East cellar dwellers. Instead, the Crew revamped the team through an influx of young talent and veteran leadership.
Rookie Chad Marshall wasn't around for last year's disappointing campaign, but he understands that clinching done sooner rather than later would be more beneficial.
"It would be nice to know that you are in already," says Marshall. "It is not something that we are stressing out about, but it would be nice to be comfortable."
While providing a slight relief for the last month of the season, a victory at Crew Stadium on Saturday evening would also give Columbus a four-point cushion atop the Eastern Conference standings, while a loss would allow the MetroStars to leapfrog them in the table.
"It is for first place. There are still a couple of weeks left to go in the season," said Crew coach Greg Andrulis. "It is not like the last chance but at the same time, you want to take care of the home games and get three points."
Despite being in first place and holding a match in hand, the Crew have not been dominant against Eastern Conference teams. In fact, they have only been able to beat two of their conference rivals thus far this season -- Chicago and New England. The Crew are 0-1-1 against the MetroStars and 0-1-2 against D.C. United, their opponents for the next two weeks.
Adding to the importance of the upcoming matches is the fact that they are at home, as the Crew are beginning a three-game homestand against the MetroStars before embarking on a three-game road swing to finish the season.
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.