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Crew focused on final game against Philadelphia

COLUMBUS — Don’t tell Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha that the New York Red Bulls’ 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution made Sunday’s season finale against the Philadelphia Union at Crew Stadium meaningless, even if it did ensure that the Crew would finish second in the East. 

“It’s important not only for us,” Warzycha said. “it’s important for the fans. It doesn’t matter if it’s the last game. We want to play to win and have a good performance and make everybody happy. That would be good going into the playoffs.” 

The second-year head coach understands the fans’ anxiety. 

On Sept. 11, the Crew played against the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center with sole possession of the overall points lead at stake. The Crew lost 3-1, and Columbus have since struggled in league play while juggling tournament play in the Lamar US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. 

“We have to play like we’re capable of,” midfielder Brian Carroll said. “For whatever reason, we haven’t been playing to the standard we’ve been known for playing the past couple of years. We need to get back to the brand of soccer that gave us success.”

The Crew (13-8-8) have three losses and three ties in their past six MLS games and have been shut out in three straight home games – a team record. 

“It’s very big, regardless,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said of Sunday’s game. “We have to treat it as a tune-up for the playoff games and we want to be hitting on all cylinders. We want the total performance to be there.”

There are signs the slump could be over and the dark cloud is moving away. Hesmer’s stoppage-time score last Saturday to tie Toronto FC lifted the spirits of the team. 

“Sad as it sounds, even though we only tied, it was a really good boost,” midfielder Kevin Burns said. “Everyone was happy afterward. We kind of got back on track. We needed one of those games.”

The Crew Express kept rolling Thursday in Trinidad against Joe Public in their last CCL group-stage game. With a berth in the quarterfinals already secured, the mostly reserve unit beat the Eastern Lions 4-1.

Yet, there were moments of doubt. Joe Public tied the match in the 27th minute on a controversial penalty. But unlike previous matches, the Crew did not panic and used two second-half goals by Emilio Renteria to pull away.

“We definitely gained some confidence going into Sunday’s match,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. “Even though New York won, we want to keep on moving forward into the playoffs.”

They will be moving forward without Steven Lenhart, who will sit against Philly after picking up a red card in an altercation with Toronto FC ‘keeper Jon Conway last Saturday. 

“You’ll probably have 90 percent of the guys who will play, but there’s always that one or two guys that you’re trying to find somebody better,” Warzycha said.

Areas of concern are finding the right complement at forward for Guillermo Barros Schelotto, stabilizing the midfield with Burns, Adam Moffat or Eddie Gaven, and choosing a left back among veteran Gino Padula or rookie Shaun Francis.

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