The last meeting between the Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls at Lower.com Field produced one of the most exciting moments of the season, as Miguel Berry scored in the 88th minute to seal a 2-1 comeback win.

That was Sept. 14 and the genesis of the Crew’s current run of form, as Columbus is unbeaten in six of its last seven games across all competitions. That streak includes hoisting the Campeones Cup trophy, impressive home wins and two road draws against the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Eastern Conference.

On Saturday night, the Crew will hope for some more Black & Gold magic, as it hosts a New York side that sits one spot higher in the Eastern Conference standings with only four games remaining in the regular season.

A win on Saturday will keep the Crew on the cusp of qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs and competing for a second-straight MLS Cup. A draw isn’t a backbreaker, but it complicates things.

The next four games will deliver the defining moments of this season, with or without head coach Caleb Porter available on the sidelines Saturday night due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. That means next man up, and in this case, perhaps Ezra Hendrickson coaches another match as interim head coach.

But the next-man-up mantra will also extend into the starting lineup. Gyasi Zardes left Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw in Nashville early with a knee injury and is listed as questionable against the Red Bulls. That likely means Berry, who got the game-winning goal against New York last time, could be back in position to give the Crew its biggest win of the season (to date).

If Berry is truly in line to start Saturday night, Hendrickson could deploy a Berry-Lucas Zelarayán-Pedro Santos trio that produced the team’s goal in the 1-1 draw with Nashville two days ago.

On Wednesday, Berry received the ball around midfield and dribbled toward goal on a breakaway, but then found Santos on his right side with an open look on goal. Santos, in an unselfish move, slipped the ball to Zelarayán, who buried it at the back post with a one-touch strike.

Together, that trio has accounted for 16 goals and 11 assists combined this season. Considering the club has 37 league goals in 2021, at least one member of the trio has been involved in 72.9% of every Crew goal in MLS play this year.

But at this stage of the season, the priority is less about who scores as long as Columbus outscores its opponent and clinches a playoff spot. And in that case, a goal or assist from any of those three players has correlated to a positive outcome for the Crew.

Including goals and assists across all competitions, the Crew has won 75% of its matches when Zelarayan scores or provides an assist. For Berry, the percentage is 60%, while it’s 66.7% for Santos.

Regardless of the starting lineup against the Red Bulls on Saturday night, it’s clear that Columbus will have attacking opportunities in the final third. It also seems likely one of these three players will be involved in the buildup of a goal. If so, statistics say that’s a promising sign of a positive outcome – at a time when the team needs it most.

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