With the visiting New York Red Bulls two points ahead of the Columbus Crew entering Saturday night, a win for the Black & Gold at Lower.com Field would have delivered a massive result with significant postseason implications.

Instead, the Crew suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat by way of Sean Nealis scoring an 87th-minute goal. As the ball rebounded from the back of the net, the center backs stood motionless and goalkeeper Eloy Room shook his head in disbelief.

The season isn’t over – and the playoffs aren’t out of reach – but making the postseason is becoming an increasingly difficult task.

“My message to them was, ‘Until we’re mathematically eliminated, we keep our heads up and we keep playing’” said interim coach Ezra Hendrickson. “Even if that happens within the next week or so – that we’re mathematically eliminated – we have games to play, we have to come out and play and perform, especially these home games.

“Our fans come out and support us through everything and we’ve got to make sure that we stay up and we keep performing for them. No matter if the results matter or not, we still have to come out and play and give a little bit more effort and a little more toughness than I thought we showed tonight.”

The Crew conceded an early goal in the seventh minute when Cristian Casseres Jr. headed home a corner kick from Thomas Edwards. The home side equalized via Miguel Berry in the 18th minute, but couldn’t generate the breakthrough goal over the next 72 minutes.

“I think everyone’s got to look at themselves and everyone’s got to be responsible,” Berry said of the result. “Just because I’m newer to the league doesn't mean I’m not responsible. Just because those guys are the big players doesn't mean they’re more responsible. Everyone’s got to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, what do we want? Do we want to make the playoffs or not?’ And really just give everything that we can to make it.”

With the defeat, the Crew has three matches remaining in the 2021 MLS regular season. As of now, the Club sits 11th in the Eastern Conference – five points out of a postseason spot where the Red Bulls now sit.

There are still nine points on the table for the Black & Gold, who host Orlando City SC on Wednesday night at Lower.com Field. Following that match, the Crew plays at D.C. United next Saturday before ending the regular season at home on Nov. 7 against Chicago Fire FC.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Hendrickson said. “It’s a little difficult, now, to get into the playoffs but our motto, our mantra is, ‘We want to defend the Cup.’ And the only way we can defend the Cup is if we get into the playoffs, and the only way to get into the playoffs is to get points.”

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