COLUMBUS -- The Crew have immediate, short and long term objectives as they return to play after the World Cup break.
It’s easy to figure that their first priority is D.C. United’s visit to Crew Stadium on Saturday for Columbus’ first match since their 1-0 loss at Colorado on June 5.
The players gave the standard “One game at a time” line, but the truth is that the Crew know that, with five of their next six games to be played at home, this is an important stretch if they are to break a first-place tie with New York in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s a chance to get a lot of points,” captain Frankie Hejduk said. “It’s in the back of our minds a little bit, but let’s worry about D.C. now and get the points there.”
A good run would help the Crew reach their primary objective—an unprecedented third straight Supporters’ Shield as the best team in the regular season.
“We take a lot of pride in it,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “We feel the Supporters’ Shield is the top prize for this league. Anybody can get hot for a month.
“In America, they like to hype the playoff winner. But any player in this league knows the Supporters’ Shield is the big prize. To do it over a nine-month stretch is strong.”
Columbus (6-2-3, 21 points) have their work cut out. They trail Los Angeles (10-1-2) by 11 points, but have played two less games and have 19 remaining.
“It’s very early,” Hesmer said. “We’re not going to concede anything to anybody. We’re going to have to make them keep earning it and we’re going to have to chase them until the final weekend.”
“We’ve been known to go on six-, seven-game winning streaks,” Hejduk said. “If we can get on a streak like that and LA lose a couple, we’re right back in it. A big swing could happen in a matter of three games. By no means is it close to being done; there are still 57 points to be had.”
But catching LA won’t be an easy task for Columbus, thanks largely to a crowded schedule.
Beginning Saturday, the Crew’s longest stretch without an MLS match is nine days. There will also be six Champions League games and at least one U.S. Open Cup match (Tuesday vs. Rochester).
“We really got the short end of the stick with our schedule, [with] how back-loaded it is,” Hesmer said. “If you look at the history of teams that have had that type of schedule, they haven’t done well going into MLS Cup [playoffs]. Is that going to be a self-fulfilling prophesy? No. We’re not going let that affect us.”
The World Cup break was supposed to get the Crew healthy and rested for a long second half of the season, but the results have been mixed.
Hejduk (right hamstring strain) and fellow defender Danny O’Rourke (right quadriceps strain) were expected back, but Hejduk is questionable for Saturday after feeling some tightness during an exhibition match against the Dayton Dutch Lions on June 19.
“We’ve had a little setback. It feels a lot better today than it did yesterday,” he said after Thursday’s training session. “If it’s feeling like it did yesterday for the game, then there’s no reason to push it. If it was a playoff game, yeah, I’d be out there.”
O’Rourke also played the second half against Dayton and came away in better condition, although he did take an injection Thursday to ease some swelling and said said he is good to go against D.C. United as the Crew look to snap a 0-2-1 streak.
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