On Saturday morning, the Columbus Crew had five MLS matches remaining to try and climb back into the playoff race. Every match was considered a must-win.
By the end of Saturday evening, Columbus had won its second straight – a 3-0 shellacking of the Chicago Fire – and third of four in the Brian Bliss era, climbing back into playoff contention in the process and avenging three 2013 losses to their rivals.
“They've beaten us three times this year, two other league games and the [US Open] Cup,” Bliss said. “So it was a little bit of payback. We owed it to ourselves, not necessarily owed it to Chicago, to go win the game. I think that served notice a little bit to Chicago who's ahead of us, and the other teams who are ahead of us in the playoff race that there's a few games left and we're coming hard.”
The match was the third of the season in which the Crew held a man advantage for the majority of the 90 minutes due to an early red card, but the first time the team had scored a goal while up a man.
“It's tough... I can't explain it,” Bliss said of playing against 10 men. “We challenged them at halftime. I think my words were, 'Guys, should I go ask them to put another player on the field? Because we'll probably play better.' It's tougher sometimes to play a man up. Obviously I was being facetious with that... but you've got to play harder when you're a man up.”
Goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who earned a clean sheet on the night, said that the team responded to Bliss's halftime speech, and found the ability to close that they had been lacking.
“At halftime, we knew we needed to step on the jugular,” he said. “And that's exactly what we did. We responded to what we needed to do, and we had the killer instinct, which we were lacking in other games when we were up a man.”
With the win, the Crew have 38 points, closing to within two points of the New England Revolution, who hold the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, and one back of Chicago and the Philadelphia Union. All three teams hold a game in hand over Columbus.
While the team's playoff chances are far from assured, winger Dominic Oduro, who opened the match's scoring, says the team has never felt like the postseason was more possible.
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“We're right behind them right now, in terms of making the playoffs, so that put pressure on them, and that's good for us,” he said. “We're going to go to Dallas [next Sunday] and try to get a result. If we take care of business, hopefully other teams will help us out. As long as there are games, there's always hope. But we're right there.”