Coming into September, the Columbus Crew had just one loss in the regular season and looked like the prohibitive favorites to finish top of the Eastern Conference.
“It doesn't get any rougher than what we've dealt with in the last two weeks: things not going our way, missing training sessions last minute, having some positive tests, having some false positives, losing guys last minute for different reasons, officiating calls that, you know, that don't go our way,” said Columbus head coach Caleb Porter.
“There used to be a time where I’d dwell on those things and even, you know, talk about them and I learned that that doesn't help, doesn't work, and those are all things that are part of the job, you've just got to roll your sleeves up and go back to work and not let the frustration get to you and not let your team dwell on those things as well,” he added.
Despite continuing to miss key midfield duo Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan to injury, as well as goalkeeper Eloy Room, the pieces looked like they finally clicked back together on Sunday night. Crew SC took three points against New York City FC in a 3-1 win at MAPFRE Stadium that not only guaranteed them a playoff spot (with the help of an Atlanta United loss later in the evening), but it put them in a strong position to clinch a top-four spot and a home game in Round 1.
"We've had a really, really tough couple weeks and for our guys to kind of battle through that and to stick together and to be able to show up and have a performance like they had, really makes me proud and it shows that we have that mettle, you know that I've been looking for — that mental toughness, that grit," Porter said. "And I thought, the guys gave everything today. Real proud of them.”
Now six points clear of fifth-placed New England Revolution, Columbus also have the rare luxury of almost a week off before their next game at the Houston Dynamo on Saturday (8 pm ET | TV & streaming info). Suddenly, things are looking bright once again for the Crew, with the added bonus of some influential players potentially set to return when the team next takes the field.
“We've got, for the first time in a long time, a four-day lead-in into the next match, which is great. We will be getting some players back — we don't know how much or how long they can play — couldn't come at a better time,” said Porter.
He added that Pedro Santos, who came out of their match against NYCFC with an injury, “should be fine” and “we're hoping Darlington [Nagbe] and Lucas [Zelarayan], with a good week, full week of training, will at least factor in for some minutes but we don't know for sure."