COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus Crew SC is one of the hottest teams in MLS, and their late-season vault into contention for a home game in the 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs is growing reminiscent of the run that led them to the 2015 MLS Cup final.
The club’s most recent win came at home Saturday night, a wide-open 3-2 triumph over the reeling New York Red Bulls that stretched Columbus' league unbeaten run to seven matches. Afterward, Justin Meram – who played a major role in the 2015 run – admitted he sees similarities.
“We struggled at points in 2015 and then we picked it up toward the end of the year and we took that momentum [to MLS Cup],” he said. “Here we are, seven unbeaten, and we’re playing really well at home.”
Hector Jimenez, Columbus’s utility man in 2017 just as he was in 2015, said the season is “absolutely” starting to remind him of the Cup final run, despite differences in the squads.
“There are some players here who weren’t a part of that year, so it’s difficult to compare,” he said. “But it definitely feels a little like it did that year.”
Club Captain Wil Trapp said he’s been too focused on a grueling playoff battle in the Eastern Conference to worry about comparisons. But as the unbeaten run has stretched, he said the team is only recently starting to consider whether they can compete in the postseason.
“Our main focus has just been making the playoffs – making it and then moving up spots,” he said. “From a contention standpoint, we haven’t seriously been wrapping our minds around that because we’re not safe yet.”
And that’s just fine with Trapp.
“We’re not a good team when we rest, when we think and when we get comfortable,” he said. “So the form, as of late, has just come from us finding form as individuals and the team being comfortable with a style of play.”
Jimenez said the team is “starting to click,” and said their play lately “feels right.” And while he didn’t say Columbus is a contender in the East, Meram said they’re on that path.
“We’re tough to beat, especially [at home],” he said. “So we want to put ourselves in a position to get a home game. Then, anything can happen.”
But with the home finale a week away, head coach Gregg Berhalter, the architect of the 2015 run, wasn’t willing to discuss similarities between his 2017 squad and his most successful group.