Columbus Crew SC is facing the top team in the Eastern Conference and the only club that has clinched a playoff spot so far. The Black & Gold look to secure a post-season berth, too, as they are back on the road to face the New York Red Bulls for the third time this season at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
With the hopes of punching a ticket to the postseason and claiming the top spot in the East, defender Tyson Wahl says he and his teammates need to take advantage now of the hard work they have put in this season.
“We don’t want to wait until the last game,” Wahl says. “We put ourselves in a good position to be able to clinch earlier than that and you never want to get into that dog fight into that last game of the season, because it’s always hectic, and as these weeks go on, it gets more and more hectic. We want to clinch and we want to push for the top spot.”
In order to clinch that postseason spot, Crew SC needs to stick to its style of play, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter says.
“I know Red Bull is going to come out and attack,” Berhalter says. “We want to play also, and we want to build our attack and play our style, so I think it’s going to be an interesting game, and I expect some goals for sure.”
Berhalter’s prediction is probable with Crew SC and New York combining for over 100 goals this season. The Black & Gold’s League-leading goal-scorer Kei Kamara as well as New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips and Loyd Sam account for 44 of those goals, with Kamara matching the goal total of the Red Bulls’ attacking duo (22).
The Red Bulls also boast U.S. international Sacha Kljestan, who has notched 11 assists this season. Kljestan could potentially match up with Crew SC midfielder Mohammed Saeid.
“It’s important that we get a good start—not to give any easy goals away and give them confidence to get into the game,” Saeid says. “We’ve got to attack and try to create as many chances as possible, and if we can’t, try to score as early as possible and put pressure on them.”
Wahl says another key is controlling the tempo of the match, limiting New York’s threatening players and knowing how to break them down.
“They have a threatening team and they play a high-tempo game,” Wahl says. “I think really early on in the season, we struggled against that, and we made some good adjustments. Obviously, they’ll react to our adjustments that we made last game, but I think we know how to play them a little bit differently, and hopefully we can be the ones scoring a lot of goals—not them.”
Wahl also stresses the Black & Gold need to give it their all for the full 90. Red Bulls’ Head Coach Jesse Marsch, who is suspended for this match, has instilled a fiery mentality in his team.
“I think Jesse Marsch is a very organized guy, and he likes his players to play with a lot of intensity and a lot of heart, so you can expect them to fight for 90 minutes,” Wahl says.
Berhalter’s looking forward to the third matchup between the two clubs this year as the two have split the first two meetings to a final score of 2-1 each.
“It’s a good team. It’s a fun matchup for us,” Berhalter says. “They’re very aggressive and they have a good concept of how they play, and I think it makes for interesting games.”
Both teams will be hungry for a win going into Saturday’s match as they’re both coming off a loss. Orlando City defeated the Red Bulls 5-2, while the Timbers narrowly slipped by Columbus 2-1. New York will be looking to bounce back in front of its home crowd, but Crew SC has experienced recent success on the road winning four in a row.
“We’re still a confident group,” Wahl says. “I think one of the differences that I’ve seen in the past couple weeks versus earlier in the season is, after a loss, we’d get a little too down, and I think the group’s responded really well after our loss.”
The Black & Gold have shown resilience throughout the year, only losing two consecutive matches once this season. Even though only one point is standing in Columbus’ way of the postseason, the is headed to New Jersey with a must-win attitude.
“We go out to win every game,” Saeid says, “and we look to do that at New York, too.”
Crew SC and the New York Red Bulls kick off at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Watch the match on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel or listen to it on La Mega 103.1 or at ColumbusCrewSC.com. For more Eastern Conference action check out tonight's match between D.C. United and New York City FC.