The Columbus Crew’s place near the bottom of the Eastern Conference at the halfway mark of the season may be little misleading, but still presents a daunting task if they want to make the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
Their 22 points from a 6-7-4 from 17 games record have the Crew tied for seventh with New England, nine points out of the final two playoffs spot held by Houston and Chicago, who hold the fourth and fifth spots in the table with 31 points apiece.
The good news is the Crew have played fewer games than than any team ind the conference other than eighth-place Philadelphia (20 points through 17 games).
“We do have so many games in hand, but at the same time, we’ve got to get some points in those games,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “We know we’ve got to get some work done to climb back up there.”
Columbus have played three fewer matches than Houston and Chicago, as well conference leaders Sporting Kansas City (36 points), runners-up New York (35) and last-place Toronto FC (19). Saturday’s opponents, D.C. United, have 33 points from 20 games. New England have played two more games, and the Crew trail Montreal by two points but have a whopping five games in hand over the Canadian side.
A more accurate portrayal of the Crew’s postseason chances is their projected 44 points. That number last season would have put them sixth in the East and narrowly missing out on the playoffs.
“Basically, we need to win more than six games the second half,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “Whether that’s going to be easier or more difficult I don’t know.”
The first half was punctuated by an inordinate amount of injuries – an average of nearly eight players per game were sidelined.
“There’s no consistency,” Warzycha said. “The lineup is different every week. It’s difficult to perform when your lineup is different and you’re jumping from one flower to another flower. I can’t blame the guys for being inconsistent because they are playing a different lineup every game. Sometimes they perform. Sometimes they don’t but they’re still positive.”
The biggest disappointment has been an offense that has scored 17 times and is on pace to score nine fewer goals than the 43 it tallied last season.
Defensively, Andy Gruenebaum has had an All-Star caliber season in place of injured goalkeeper William Hesmer. Columbus have allowed 19 goals and, if they equal that total in the second half, they’ll improve by six over last season.
“I’ve been here for three years and, every season, our goal differential is within a goal or two,” midfielder Dilly Duka said. “We haven’t been the team to really score a lot of goals. That’s the way we play. That’s our tactics.”
While the schedule is a favorable in the second half, with nine of 17 games at home, the Crew have yet to establish a home-field advantage. At 4-3-1, they have already equaled last year’s total of home losses (9-3-5).
“It’s not going like we thought because we lost some points at home,” defender Sebastián Miranda said. “We can do much better. If I don’t think like this, why am I here?”