Columbus Crew SC and D.C. United have battled each other ever since their very first Major League Soccer match in 1996. There's a lot of history between the two MLS originals and the 20-year series will add another chapter in Sunday’s “Decision Day” showdown at MAPFRE Stadium.
“The implications are clear. If we win, we’re second,” Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter says. “That’s going to be our focus. We know it’s not going to be easy, given the fact that D.C. doesn’t necessarily have to win to get second. It’s going to put us in a tough spot."
Although Berhalter stresses that every match is equally important, it’s hard not to put weight on this one. In the final match of the regular season, the Black & Gold will need three points to pass D.C. in the Eastern Conference standings and avoid the Knockout Round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. In short, it’s a battle for the bye.
“I think everyone wants to have that first-round bye,” Crew SC forward Aaron Schoenfeld says. “I definitely think it increases your chances to make a run in the playoffs, have fresher legs down the stretch of it, so that’s what we’ll be gunning for.”
Columbus and D.C. have met twice already this season, with each team winning once. Given the implications of Sunday's match, the third go-around has a playoff feel. Fortunately, Crew SC’s schedule has prepared the squad for a playoff-like atmosphere.
“If you look at our schedule over the last month, we’ve been playing playoff-style games,” Berhalter says. “We had D.C. away, Portland at home, New York away and Toronto away, so we feel like we’re prepared moving into the playoffs and that’s a positive sign.”
If the Black & Gold come out of Decision Day victorious, they will not only secure the second seed in the East, but also earn a berth in the Conference semifinals.
“We’re working on D.C. and focusing on how we think we can exploit some of their weaknesses and trying to nullify some of their strengths," Berhalter says. "When Sunday comes around, we’ll be prepared.”
Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium. Get your tickets here.