The buildup came quickly – just ask Nashville SC – but it felt like months in the making.

Miguel Berry collected the ball near the midfield line and dribbled in on goal. Atop the box, he fed a pass to an open Pedro Santos, who then left it off for Lucas Zelarayan. The Argentine needed only a touch to punch the ball toward the back post, coolly putting the Columbus Crew up 1-0 at the 75th-minute mark.

It was a moment of bliss and belief before being pegged back two minutes later in the eventual 1-1 draw on Wednesday night inside Nissan Stadium.

But the Zelarayan goal also showed something else: The Columbus Crew, once thought to be down and out, are still very much in the thick of the postseason discussion.

“We remained on the same path we had been on over the past few matches, which is a good one,” Zelarayan said after the match. “We’re sad about the tie, because we thought we could win. We’re content that we played a good match and deserved more, but at least we are able to take a point.”

Playing on the road with Caleb Porter unavailable, the Crew earned a respectable result at second-place Nashville SC, bumping the Black & Gold to within three points of the postseason with four regular-season matches remaining.

Ezra Hendrickson, normally an assistant coach for the Black & Gold, replaced Porter and led the team to a point at Nissan Stadium, where Nashville SC currently holds the longest home regular-season unbeaten streak in MLS this season at 16 matches (8-0-8).

“We have a task at this point in the season, and that is to pick up points,” Hendrickson said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re at home or if we’re away, we have to make sure that every game we get points, and then see what happens with the other games. Fortunately for us tonight, the other games went well for us, but being able to pick up a point tonight, we’re a little disappointed to be honest, because we felt like we had it in the bag, but we gave up a goal and they were able to tie it.

“All in all, I told the guys the effort was good, and we did what we set out to do tonight and that was get points because we know for every game, we need to pick up points. We can’t come out of any game without points. It was a good game in that aspect as far as playoff hopes - still alive and we’re still in the thick of things.”

The Black & Gold have positioned themselves into must-win soccer, which should lead to an exciting end to the regular season. But no game – at least for now – will be as vital as Saturday night’s matchup with the New York Red Bulls at Lower.com Field.

The Crew sits 10th in the Eastern Conference with 38 points. In ninth sits New York on 40 points, but with one fewer game played. A win on Saturday night – at the minimum – would bump the Crew above the Red Bulls and into the fringes of making the postseason for a second-straight season.

“It’s a great thing that everyone is working; not just the backline, it’s always the whole team,” captain Jonathan Mensah said. “Coming into this game, we knew we were confident. We won 4-0 at home. We knew if we did more of the things we did in the game against Inter Miami, we’re going to do well. (Miami) also played a back five and Nashville played the same system. We knew if we did the same things, we’re going to be successful. It worked until we conceded the goal. We'll keep working and we’ll recover, and we’ll go again on Saturday.”

The Columbus Crew are back to playing like the Crew again, which means a team with championship-caliber potential through a lethal attack, steady midfield, and strong defense. The good news is that that foundation remained consistent even with Porter unavailable, as Hendrick stepped in and produced a fine coaching debut in unforgiving circumstances.

“The way we do things here as a staff, it’s a collaborative effort,” Hendrickson said. “It’s just that I was the one who had to make final decisions tonight, but as far as how we go about (things), we had every training and everything prepped for this game, so everything was done as a team.

“It’s Caleb’s team, just follow his instructions even though he is not able to be here with us physically, we still take his guidance and play based on the way he wants to play and how we have the team prep. That doesn’t change, we’re still going to continue that until he’s able to rejoin us.”

The Crew kicks off on Saturday at Lower.com Field at 6 p.m. ET, and fans can enjoy Post-Match Fireworks pres. by Lower.com. | PURCHASE TICKETS

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