OBETZ, Ohio — Holding serve at home is, as always, the key to making the MLS Cup playoffs.
The Crew are doing their part, trying to make their home ground “Fort Columbus” once again by losing once in 12 games heading into an important Eastern Conference showdown against Philadelphia on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Frankie Hejduk would be proud. The former Crew captain, now with the LA Galaxy, stressed to his teammates the importance of getting maximum points at Crew Stadium.
“Like Frankie would always say, we have to make this our fortress,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said.
The Crew did just that in 2008 when they won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup double, and the following season when they earned their second straight Shield.
At one stretch, they reeled off a 22-game regular-season unbeaten run at Crew Stadium, setting a league mark that has since been eclipsed by Real Salt Lake. The Crew were a combined 20-4-6 at home over those two years and a respectable — but not intimidating — 10-3-2 last season.
After beating New England 3-1 last Saturday, the Crew are 7-1-4 this year in the friendly confines and have outscored opponents 19-9.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on getting three points as much as we can at home,” current captain Chad Marshall said. “We’ve been really good here the last four years. Even though we have 17 new guys this year that’s still a mainstay for our team.”
The Crew (10-7-7, 37 points), who own a three-point lead atop the conference over Philadelphia, have not made it easy on themselves at home: They have trailed 1-0 in six of the games although they rallied for a 3-1-2 record in those contests.
Despite two scoreless games and a 1-0 loss to Chicago on June 12 at Crew Stadium this season, Columbus have shown some offensive punch when playing in front of the home fans. They scored three times in the final 36 minutes against the Revolution and overcame an early deficit to beat Colorado 4-1 on June 26.
“We are confident because we are creating chances and we have all of the stadium behind us,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “It’s tough for any team to come here to play. That’s what we’re trying to do. What’s the outcome going to be Saturday? I don’t know, but we feel very confident at home.”
Rogers said that attitude is steeled by recent performances before their fans.
“We’ve been playing a more attractive style of soccer,” he said. “The team feels we’re going to win all our home games. That’s a good feeling.”
He’d prefer Saturday that the Crew jump to the lead like they did at Real Salt Lake on July 30 when they netted the only two goals of the match in the first 10 minutes.
“We were relaxed and played well the rest of the half, then we kind of defended and counterattacked,” Rogers said. “I’d much rather play like that. Hopefully we can do that this weekend.”