PREVIEW | Playoffs come early as Crew SC, NYRB play for positioning

Saturday's Eastern Conference lockup between Columbus Crew SC and the New York Red Bulls marks the penultimate home match for the Black & Gold at MAPFRE Stadium in the 2017 Major League Soccer regular season. Moreover, the match stands as a playoff collision in everything but name.

Both sides come into the showdown jockeying for Eastern Conference seeding — Columbus entering in the No. 5 spot and New York clinging to the final playoff qualifying position. With No. 4 Atlanta United FC hosting the on-the-bubble Montreal Impact on Saturday night, maximum points are a must for all four sides.

Crew SC's strike force of stalwarts Ola Kamara (16 goals, 3 assists), Justin Meram (11 goals, 7 assists) and Federico Higuain (9 goals, 7 assists) have been bolstered by 2017 newcomers Kekuta Manneh (4 goals, 3 assists) and record-transfer Designated Player Pedro Santos (2 assists). Kamara is streaking with a goal in his last four matches and seven in his last eight. 

The two MLS Charter Members are coming off a streak of dropping points through split-point draws. The Red Bulls tied four consecutive matches before falling on the road in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final on Wednesday night. Despite coming in with more turnaround time than New York, Crew SC is coming off a pair of emotional ties against Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

The ability to host a first-round Knockout Round match rides on the line as soon as center official Fotis Bazakos blows his opening whistle at 7:30 p.m. at MAPFRE Stadium.

With home games against Eastern Conference foes such as the New York Red Bulls on September 23 and D.C. United on September 30 leaving vital points up for grabs, Crew SC is charging closer to chasing the 2017 MLS Cup.

Columbus closes the regular season on the road at Orlando City SC on October 15 and at New York City FC on October 22.