15 matches down. 19 to go.
That's the mindset of the Columbus Crew right now, particularly as it puts the 2014 FIFA World Cup break in the rear-view mirror and gears up for the final four months of the season.
"First of all, it was some physical rest," said Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter on his club's break. "The guys have been working hard for six months. The rest was good. Mentally, to not have the pressure to perform for a couple of weeks was good for the guys. Now, after being out of the Open Cup and looking forward to the next four months, we have our work cut out for us. There's 19 games left. It's all about making a push to make the playoffs."
Currently level with New York Red Bulls on points in the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Crew is in a good position at the moment – a position that can be enhanced with a strong return to League action in front of what is expected to be a tremendous crowd for Red, White and Crew.
"As a player, you want to play in front of as many people as you can," said Berhalter. "You want it always to be sold out. I know that's not always possible, but the fans really help us. They really push us. That's something that makes a big difference in a game."
Saturday's opponent, FC Dallas, comes to Columbus short many of its most impactful players. Mauro Diaz has been out for quite a while with a knee injury, Blas Perez and Fabian Castillo are both suspended, and Michel and Matt Hedges are both listed as questionable. Still, the Crew has pledged to be responsible and not take the Hoops lightly.
"They have some pace up front with [Tesho] Akindele," said defender Eric Gehrig. "[Andres] Escobar is a good player on the left. We're not going to take them lightly. We're going to play our normal game like they're going to bring it. We know they're going to bring it. We'll be ready for them."
"They're certainly losing some quality, but if you look at the guys that step in, they’re also good guys," added Berhalter. "They've done a good job building that squad and it's a pretty deep squad. I still think they have some talent."
One area where Berhalter cautioned his team needed to be ready was on set pieces.
"They have some big, tall guys and they take long throw-ins, which is interesting because that's not really their style. [FC Dallas Head Coach] Oscar [Pareja] likes to play soccer and likes to keep the ball on the ground. I guess they take advantage of some of the height that they have in these situations. It's a good team."
With FC Dallas having won one of its last 10 matches, and the Crew having won one of its last 12, both clubs will be looking to put the past away and get off to a good second-half start.
"It's a very important game for both teams. We feel like we've let some things slip in the first half of the season, but that's going to happen – it's a long season," said Gehrig. "There's plenty of time left, so it’s about learning from things that happened in the first half of the season and progressing, moving along in the season. There's 19 games left. Both teams are going to go at it. I expect a good game and we're going to be ready."