It’s make or break for Columbus. Their once-promising season is now hanging in the balance. How they respond Sunday against D.C. United in the home finale (4 pm ET, watch LIVE online) will go a long way to determining if the Crew’s season turns out to be a colossal bust.
“We were very consistent for the most part, but you have to play your best soccer at the end of the season,” coach Robert Warzycha said.
The Crew (11-12-8, 41 points) led the conference from July 23 until losing to Los Angeles last Saturday, and then fell into fourth after a 2-1 defeat to Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday. Their winless streak is now extended to six games with a record of 0-5-1 in that span and with the end of the season close, they have to find their form again - and do so quickly.
Columbus trail SKC by three points and haven’t been this low in the standings since a 1-1 draw at New York on June 4 left them tied for fourth, a spot out of automatic postseason qualification. They could drop a spot to fifth — the final wild card berth — before they even kick off if the Red Bulls defeat Toronto FC on Saturday.
In spite of the pressure, there probably won’t be a lot of fire and brimstone speeches for the Crew in the time leading to the D.C. match but more of an emphasis not to panic.
“We can’t go crazy,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “We can’t lose our minds. We have to dig down deep, raise our intensity, raise our mental awareness on the field and bring the other good things that we’ve done during the season that got us to this point so far, but also understand there’s three games left. We still have time.”
In the past six matches the Crew have endured two own goals, two penalty kicks (both made) and a red card to Emmanuel Ekpo in the 11th minute of a 2-2 tie vs. Houston.
“We’re making too many mistakes,” Warzycha said. “It’s as simple as that. We’re not playing smart. Every game there’s something different. If it’s not spacing, it’s the marking, it’s the own-goal, it’s the penalty, it’s misjudging the ball. You name it.”
Hesmer said the Crew have been their own worst enemy.
“Those things are going to happen. You just can’t compound the mistakes,” he said. “More importantly, we have game plans. We have an idea what we want to do. Sometimes guys are on their own page and aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do and that’s cost us.”
Hesmer also called on the senior members of the squad to address the situation.
“It’s no fun to sit there and watch hours and hours of video, especially to see the things we point out [that] hurt us,” he said. “I think from now on we’ll be a little more outspoken to make sure that nobody slacks and everybody’s prepared and everybody’s mentally sharp.”
One positive for the Crew is they may get midfielder Eddie Gaven back for the clash. Gaven has been out since Aug. 5 with a bone bruise, but the flip-side is that they are likely to lose midfielder Robbie Rogers (hamstring injury vs. SKC). Midfielder Danny O’Rourke, who rested his left knee Wednesday, is expected to play, as is center back Chad Marshall (left ankle sprain).
“I trust these guys,” Warzycha said of his team. “They were very, very good for most of the season. I know they can play.”