Just a few weeks ago, a shot at the playoffs seemed to be a near impossibility for the Crew. But with wins in three out of their last four matches, the Black & Gold have thrust themselves into the postseason picture. Columbus sits just two points out of fifth place with four matches to go in 2013, starting with a trip to FC Dallas on Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio).
Despite struggles that included just two wins in an 11-match span through the summer and a coaching change, the Crew kept its confidence.
"I think a lot of people maybe counted us out, but this team has a lot of character and I think we've shown that," rookie defender Chad Barson said. "We have a lot of pride in this city, in this club. I don't think we ever counted ourselves out. We all believed that we needed a few games where we got results to jumpstart us back into the playoff race."
Added Interim Head Coach Brian Bliss: "If you can win some games, you can climb the standings rather quickly. Look at Seattle. Six weeks ago I think they were in sixth or seventh and now they're in first. Granted, they won six of seven or seven of eight.
"I'm not saying we're going to go on that kind of a run, but in this League, anything is possible."
Coming off back-to-back losses, FC Dallas finds itself in a six-team fight for the final three playoff spots in the Western Conference. A winner in just two of its past 16 matches, results have been hard to come by for Schellas Hyndman's squad following a strong start to the 2013 campaign.
Brian Bliss is expecting a battle from the opening whistle in the Texas heat on Sunday.
"Dallas is probably a better team than their record states. I think we are as well," the Interim Head Coach said. "It's going to be a tough test because they're in the same boat. They've got to get points and I'm expecting that at home, they're going to come out guns blazing, press and try to turn the table early on us. We've got to be prepared to match that."
Limiting the influence of FC Dallas' speedy wingers Fabián Castillo and Jackson alongside playmaker David Ferreira and forward Blas Pérez will be the priority for the Crew backline.
"[Castillo and Jackson] have great pace," Barson said. "They're great at running one-v-one. We have to do well shifting over and deter them from seeing spaces where they can run at us. A big thing for us is communication and shifting around in the back, the communication of when to step, where to force them and when midfielders need to get back to double-down to help defensively."
The Black & Gold are 17-17-8 all-time against the Hoops across all competitions. The Crew took last season's meeting, 2-1, behind goals from Justin Meram and Sebastian Miranda.
TCHANI, ARRIETA STEPPING UP IN PLAYOFF PUSH
Key cogs in the Crew's 3-0 victory over the Chicago Fire last week, midfielder Tony Tchani and forward Jairo Arrieta have stepped up their play in recent weeks to benefit the Crew's push for the postseason.
Pairing with Wil Trapp in central midfield, Tchani brings a physical presence that the Black & Gold had been previously lacking. The Cameroonian picked up his first assist last week against the Fire.
"Tony jumped in there in the Houston game for Trapp when he went out in the 30th minute and he hasn't really looked back since," Bliss said. "He's been a mainstay in there and he's earning those minutes that he's getting. Now he's even putting an accent on the game, not only with his play, but with the assist and through balls."
While Arrieta's goal production has slowed in his second season with the Black & Gold, the Costa Rican has been a workhorse in the Crew attack to create space and chances for others.
"Arrieta, he's been working hard all year, but he hasn't been getting the results in terms of statistics," Bliss explained Thursday. "But he was very instrumental in that last game with his work off the ball and setting other guys up.
"He's been doing those things, he just doesn't always show up on the scoresheet."