Can the Columbus Crew win the conference that nobody is good enough to win?

The Crew’s top scorer, Andrés Mendoza

EASTERN leaders, the Columbus Crew must scrap it out for another five games if they are to lay claim to the highest rated seeding in their conference – if they make the play-off’s at all.

The Columbus Crew currently lead the Eastern Conference by a single point but it is the failure of their rivals to capitalise on their stuttering form, and not merit, which ensures them of their current standing.

“We can’t panic,” explained defensive midfielder Danny O’Rourke. “Fortunately, we’ve had some results by the other teams go our way in first place.”

On Saturday, the Crew were handed a 1-0 defeat by third place, Philadelphia Union, allowing the Union, to close the gap on the Eastern leaders to two points. On the same night, luck allowed the Crew to cling on to their one point lead as their closest rivals, Kansas City were also beaten, falling to the same score line at Real Salt Lake.

Despite the slice of good fortune, the Columbus Crew are looking anything but an MLS Cup winning side and face a real test to secure a play-off place, with the top three conference sides automatically qualifying with teams position 4th and 5th going head-to-head for the final remaining play-off spot.

In stark contrast to the Western Conference, the Eastern Conference championship is of far less quality and far more open.

Despite leading the conference, the Columbus Crew have minus 2 goal difference to go alongside their 41 point haul, compared to LA Galaxy, who lead the Western Conference with 58 points and a goal difference of plus 21. But the disparity between the Eastern and Western Conference’s run parallel almost throughout the division.

Each of the top five teams in the Western Conference have all so far, acquired more points than Columbus, yet the Crew would have an easier passage in the play-off’s, facing the weaker sides of the Eastern division on route to November’s MLS final.

The Crew play host to the LA Galaxy this coming weekend before a final four game run-in, which includes matches against second placed Kansas City and play-off hopefuls DC United. An upturn in form is vital if they Columbus are going to challenge in the play-offs, should they qualify. “Ideally, we want to be hitting a peak when we’re hitting the play-offs, so we have a few games to right the ship and to start moving in a positive direction,” said goalkeeper William Hesmer.

Hoping to end Columbus’ poor form will be veteran Peruvian, Andrés Mendoza, who has given the side a healthy goal reply with 11 in 24 matches, making him the league’s joint second top-scorer. Coach, Robert Warzycha will also shortly be able to call upon the returning trio of captain, Chad Marshall, defender Emmanuel Ekpo and midfielder Eddie Gaven.

Columbus, even at this late stage of the season, could end up with everything or nothing, in a situation unique to the MLS – highlighting the league format’s biggest flaw in the process.

This article first appeared on www.theelastico.com

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