SEATTLE – For the second straight year manager Robert Warzycha and his Columbus Crew have their work cut out for them, as they hit their roughest patch of the season at the worst possible time.
Less than 72 hours after falling off the top of the Eastern Conference for the first time in months, the Crew dropped a hard-fought 2-1 result in the final of the US Open Cup on Tuesday night.
WATCH: CREW PLAYERS REACT TO USOC LOSS
They have also yet to qualify for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League with a road trip in Trinidad left in the group stage.
Their congested schedule next takes them to Toyota Park to face the Chicago Fire in a Friday night match that Columbus need to turn their season around (9 p.m. ET).
“We have to focus on the league and playoffs,” Warzycha said. “But I think they’re mentally strong and we’re going to see a good team on Friday against Chicago.”
[inline_node:320157]Warzycha said he was happy with his side’s performance in Tuesday’s USOC final, especially from a tactical standpoint. He credited his team for limiting Seattle’s chances and called the Sounders’ second and decisive goal in the 66th minute a “lucky” play that “came from nowhere.”
“I wish Robbie [Rogers] would score a goal instead of the crossbar in the end [85th minute],” Warzycha said of his club’s best chance to equalize. “Sometimes you need some luck, and we didn’t have any today.”
After a scoreless home tie against the Earthquakes on Saturday, in which they could not convert on numerous chances, the Crew desperately need the tide to turn. Friday’s match in Chicago could represent a turning point to get the ship righted with only three league matches remaining before the start of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
What’s worse is that memories of 2009 are beginning to creep in. The Crew’s talismanic Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto pointed out that the team hit a similar skid at the end of last season. In fact, the Crew won just one of their last seven matches in all competitions after Oct. 1 last year, and this year they're currently winless in their last six matches across all competitions.
“Sometimes you can’t pick how you want to finish,” Schelotto said. “You get to the end of the season the best way you can. We need to work harder and touch up a few things … The only way we can get back on the winning track is by getting results and playing well.”
What they have going for them is that their final four matches before the end of the regular season involve three against Eastern Conference teams out of contention or on the verge of postseason elimination. Their last Champions League group match in Trinidad also features an opponent in Joe Public with nothing to play for other than pride.
“I don’t think anybody is panicking,” goalkeeper Andy Grunenbaum said. “We‘ve been on a downward spiral a little bit but it only takes one game and we’ve got a game on Friday to turn it around.”