Shortly after his team wrapped up a 2-0 win over Los Angeles on Aug. 23, an excited Gregg Berhalter wrapped up his speech in the Crew SC locker room by delivering a line that might normally come from a hiking instructor.
“Keep climbing, baby,” the fourth-year Crew coach said. “We look up from now on.”
A few weeks ago, that message might have been difficult to follow. Beating the Galaxy raised the Crew’s record to a mere 12-12-3, with teams such as the Montreal Impact not far below in the Major League Soccer standings.
Since that win, however, Columbus has gone 2-0-2 and is eight points clear of seventh-place Montreal, with six teams in the Eastern Conference qualifying for the playoffs. With three games to play, the Crew (14-12-5) has a much higher probability of overtaking Chicago (14-10-6) for the No. 4 spot in the standings than falling apart to the point of missing the playoffs.
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“I think we’ve been gaining a decent amount of momentum, so whenever I said that, that was the point. It’s not something we just came out with now because of the standings,” Berhalter said. “We’ve believed in ourselves for a while, and the focus has been that for a while. We knew that if we could get points, we could attack the top.”
A difficult balance for many teams at this time of year is maintaining end-of-season goals — one for the Crew might be hosting a knockout-round playoff game — while focusing on the task at hand. Crew SC’s seven-game unbeaten streak will be on the line Saturday against a D.C. United team (9-17-4) that is last in the conference but has been playing better of late.
Without a realistic shot at a playoff spot, D.C. will look to play the role of spoiler, starting with an opportunity Saturday to disrupt the Crew’s climb.
“We can’t take our…