It is essentially win or else for the Columbus Crew, who will try to extend their faint playoff chances with a victory over already-eliminated Vancouver on the road Saturday.
The Crew (9-7-15) are 11th in the East on 34 points with three matches remaining, six back of seventh-place New England, which has a match in hand. A failure to win this match coupled with a Revolution victory over Real Salt Lake on Saturday would mark the first time in three years Columbus failed to qualify for the postseason.
Caleb Porter’s team has played solid soccer for two months, but it looks to be a case of too little, too late in addition to too many matches ending in draws that could have been victories. The Crew, though, did put one of their best efforts of the season together last Saturday with a 3-1 victory at reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United as Gyasi Zardes and Luis Diaz scored goals seven minutes apart in the second half to overturn a deficit.
“They’ve won two trophies already and they’ve been on a really good run of form. So for us to come in here and go toe-to-toe, to press them high, turn them over at times playing transition and then do what we need to win … I’m really proud,” Porter said.
“It has been 10 games and one loss and that killer instinct that I’ve been looking for, we sure showed that today.”
Zardes has been in solid form since helping the U.S. to a runner-up finish at the Gold Cup with six goals in his last 10 league matches. He has a team-best 12 for Columbus, which never truly recovered from losing playmaker Frederico Higuain to a torn ACL in late May and first-choice keeper Zack Steffen signing with Manchester City and being loaned out to German club Fortuna Dusseldorf.
The Whitecaps (7-9-15) are trying to avoid finishing last in the West and will miss the playoffs for the second straight year and third time in four seasons. Vancouver did snap a three-match skid with a 2-1 victory over Houston last Saturday as Fredy Montero’s goal in the 90th minute proved decisive.
“Until our goal, I think overall, collectively, tactically … there weren’t many opportunities on both sides, but I think we looked like maybe the most dangerous team,” coach Marc Dos Santos told the Vancouver Sun. “After our goal, I think we felt a little bit not-calm in the things we were doing. We weren’t able to get out from their pressure. (But) overall, because of the 90 minutes, I think we deserved the three points.”
It was just the ninth time all season the Whitecaps – whose 32 goals are better than only expansion side FC Cincinnati – scored more than one goal in a match. Vancouver is trying to win back-to-back contests for just the second time all season, having done so May 3-10 over Colorado and Portland.
The Whitecaps are unbeaten in their last seven matches versus the Crew (5-0-2) since dropping the first two meetings between the teams and won 2-1 in Columbus last year on second-half goals by Brek Shea and Kei Kamara.
(Eloy Room and Gyasi Zardes photo courtesy Columbus Crew official Twitter account)