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Columbus Crew SC coach Caleb Porter: Priority is MLS is Back Tournament group stage matches

With group stage matches counting toward the regular season standings and the tournament winner garnering a berth in the Concacaf Champions League, there are incentives galore for teams in the MLS is Back Tournament.

That could lead to a quandary for some coaches on how to line up their teams. Not so for Columbus Crew SC coach Caleb Porter.

“Our priority is to win MLS Cup. That’s the No. 1 goal that we have,” Porter told the Columbus Dispatch. “I look at it as the first three games are the most important and then the next four games (in the knockout stage), it’s an Open Cup, essentially.”

As such, Porter will roll out a first-choice starting XI for his team’s group stage matches, while likely rotating the squad if Crew SC advance out of Group E.

“We’ll try to win every game so that we get a Champions League berth, but also what we don’t want to do is try to win every game to get the Champions League and then sacrifice the regular season,” Porter said. “That’s the exact same way that we approach the Open Cup. I think it’s important for people to understand it’s unique.”

Crew SC open with a Hell is Real showdown against FC Cincinnati July 11 (10:30 pm ET | FS1, TUDN, TSN) before taking on the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United.

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