Thirty-three matches have not been enough to cement the Crew's position in the Eastern Conference, although it has been enough to guarantee it an MLS Cup Playoff spot. To that end, where and who the Crew will play in the Playoffs is entirely up for grabs. The Black & Gold can still finish anywhere between third and fifth, although their odds of capturing at least the fourth seed dramatically increased following last weekend's dream situation of a win over New York and a Sporting Kansas City loss at Philadelphia.
Here is the relevant portion of the standings:
|3. Sporting Kansas City||33||14||12||7||49||9||48|
|4. Columbus Crew||33||13||10||10||49||9||50|
|5. New York Red Bulls||33||12||10||11||47||3||53|
Remaining schedule: PHI @ CLB, NY @ SKC
Tiebreakers (in order): Wins, Goal Difference, Goals For
Overall, the Crew's chances of finishing fourth or better are extremely good -- 95%, to be exact. There is only one combination that results in the Crew falling into fifth place and thus having to play the Knockout Round match on the road: a loss against Philadelphia coupled with a New York road win at Sporting Kansas City. If that exact pair of results occurs, the Crew will travel to Sporting Park in the Knockout Round.
It's important to note that this is the only possible way the Crew can be in the Knockout Round on the road. Last weekend's result guaranteed that Columbus would not have to travel to Red Bull Arena in a one-match Knockout match no matter the circumstances.
So what does the Crew have to do to finish in third and earn that crucial bye to the Conference Semifinals? In short, it has to finish the weekend ahead on points against Sporting Kansas City. Because SKC has one more win than the Black & Gold, it will win the tiebreaker between the two sides should they finish level on points.
So, in order for the Crew to pass SKC and come in third (thus setting up a two-legged aggregate series with New England), it has to either win or draw versus Philadelphia, coupled with an SKC loss, or beat Philadelphia, coupled with an SKC loss or draw.
All other combinations of results will result in the Crew capturing the fourth seed. If the Black & Gold beat or tie Philadelphia, they are guaranteed at least the fourth spot. Even if the Crew loses to the Union, it can still come in fourth as long as SKC wins or ties against the Red Bulls.
It creates an interesting catch-22: if the Crew wins or ties, Black & Gold fans will want the Red Bulls to do well at Sporting in order to earn a higher seed. If the Crew loses, then it's exactly the opposite: Crew fans would want Sporting to win or tie in order to avoid a drop to fifth.
Remember that both of these relevant matches are on Sunday, with the Crew's clash against the Union earlier in the day. The Black & Gold won't know exactly what result they need for a specific seed headed into the contest, but New York and Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m. ET / ESPN2) will. It should make for an exciting final matchday of the season as the Crew looks to get through to the Conference Semifinals with a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference.