When the Chicago Fire typically visits Columbus, the storylines gravitate toward the deep-seated rivalry that has existed since the Fire's first season in 1998.
This time around, as the Crew prepares to host the Men in Red on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio), the focus will be on a tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race as both clubs still have a fighting chance at the postseason. With six weeks remaining, Chicago is in fifth place on the table with 39 points and a game in-hand on the Black & Gold with 35 points.
For Interim Head Coach Brian Bliss and the Crew, the playoffs start Saturday against the Fire.
"It's really a playoff game for us," Bliss said. "With five games remaining, we have to look at it as a playoff match. We've got to do the same work we've been doing the past three weeks, but just be totally focused on the task at hand. We're still in it."
Following a 2-1 win on the road against the first-place Montreal Impact last week, the Black & Gold's hope for the postseason has been revived. Three points against Chicago would further shift momentum in the Crew's direction.
"There are still a lot of points out there for us these last five games left," defender Chad Marshall said. "We need to capitalize on that. That come first and foremost with home games and with the Fire being right above us, it's a huge game."
Added forward Dominic Oduro: "The fans will make the rivalry what it is and hype it up, we like that. We want the game to be hyped up. But at the end of the day, we're both fighting for the playoffs right now. They're closer and we're close, but at this point it's all about getting the three points.
"We have five games to go. We can still reach the playoffs. We need help, but we need to take care of our business first and that's getting three points. "
Saturday will be the fourth meeting between the two clubs this season across MLS and U.S. Open Cup play. The Crew has fallen in the three previous matches with the Fire, but Bliss believes his team isn't focused on the past.
Although, a win could also be a bonus for the club's psyche.
"[A win] could break a psychological barrier as well," Bliss explained. "I don't know how many guys are in the locker room thinking about losing to Chicago three straight times, probably not many.
"But certainly for the psyche, breaking that cycle is good the guys and good for the group. It's important that we get the right result on the weekend."