Columbus Crew celebrate vs. RBNY - Nov. 21, 2020
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Columbus Crew SC confident in habits, approach against Nashville SC amid challenging week

In an already unprecedented season, it's been anything but an ordinary week for Columbus Crew SC.

Ahead of their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs with Nashville SC on Sunday, the Crew announced Wednesday that four players have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Speaking with reporters on a Saturday video call, Columbus head coach Caleb Porter said that he's been in contact with the players that tested positive and said they're all asymptomatic and in good spirits. With Sunday's match slated to go ahead as scheduled, Porter said he's encouraged by the rest of his team's ability to adapt on the fly to the challenging circumstances and relying on the habits and routine they've managed to establish.

"It's been challenging. We've had to adapt," Porter said. "We've had to modify our preparation. What I would say is we've had other tough weeks as well. It reminds me a lot of the week where we had to postpone the Orlando game, last-minute changes to what we're doing. Our guys have been unbelievable, they've been like they have all year: Resilient. We see it, you rely on your chemistry, your unity, your relationships and the habits, the mental toughness, you rely on all those things in these situations and the players have been outstanding just to roll with it and here we are with the game still on. The players are excited to keep moving on in this tournament and to try and achieve our goal." 

Midfielder Artur echoed his coach's sentiment, saying that the impression he's gotten in training is that the group is galvanized despite the alterations they've had to make to their normal routine.

"It's been kind of different, but we're taking this like a thing to push us forward to make us try even harder to give even more," Artur said. "I think the whole group is locked in with that mentality. We just need to overcome every obstacle we have and that's the whole team mentality right now.

"There are no excuses. For sure, it's not normal, we didn't have a normal week with everything that's happened. But everybody is ready to play tomorrow and win the game and that's the important thing we talked about."

The game itself was set to be a challenging one anyway, against a Nashville team that is coming off a 1-0 Round One upset of 2019 MLS Cup finalists Toronto FC and has become known as one of the league's stronger defensive sides in its expansion season.

2020 MLS Cup Playoffs Highlights: Columbus 3, RBNY 2

Nashville is tough to break down, to be sure, but Porter said he's not necessarily buying the notion that their style is solely based around that trait. 

"They're not just a team that drops off and defends," Porter said. "I think that's a myth. I think they're a team that presses a little bit, that tries to get some stuff off you. 

"And of course if you break it, now they get a little bit more compact and they go into their low block, and their low block is tough to break down and when they win the ball they're very good in transition. You can see that's a key phase for them. They have no problem going direct in the build-up and then playing off second balls and getting crosses in. They're great at set pieces and I think they're a patient team. They basically invite you to beat them and if you make a mistake, whether it's a set piece or in transition, fall asleep, or off a cross, not defending the box, then they'll punish you."

Porter said his hope is that his team can draw on the experience his team gained during other points in this season when they've had to deal with adverse circumstances and maintain the mentality that had them near the top of the Eastern Conference table for much of the season.

"I think when that whistle blows, neither team is going to be perfect, there are going to be mistakes, there are going to be maybe at times lack of execution, but at the end of the day you just have to find a way to win and advance," Porter said. "That's it. We're going to be ready, the guys are going to be ready and they're excited to continue this season and continue towards our goal. We've got three games in two weeks left and I think our guys believe that nothing's going to stop us."