After a year of questions and doubts, Columbus Crew SC are ready to start the 2019 season. The MLS original team is ready for a new challenge that every team faces this year — a condensed schedule.
In an effort to get the playoffs finished before the November international break, MLS shortened the timeframe of the regular season along with making major postseason alterations. This, along with a three-week break for the Concacaf Gold Cup, means there will be more midweek games. Starters will need to be rotated out for depth players.
”I’ve always been a firm believer that there is no first team, second team. It’s one team. It’s a squad,” new Crew coach Caleb Porter said. “I need everyone. That’s true to the case in this league. You’re going to have to rotate. You’re going to have injuries because of the demands with travel and climates and altitudes and compacted windows. Having a spirit, having depth in your team is really important, and I will use quite a lot of players.”
Additionally, the playoffs changed from a two-leg format to a straight knockout round, with the top seven teams in each conference qualifying for the postseason. Seeding will be more important than ever as teams are no longer guaranteed home games as the playoffs progress.
“I think [the new playoff format] is exciting,” Crew captain Wil Trapp said. “No break between the playoff structure, you’ll have more riding on each game. We’ve found that in the past two years with those play-in games, [knockout] games tend to be the most exciting matches of the playoffs in a lot of ways. The format will serve the league well, and will serve the supporters and fans well, and should make for an exciting setup.”
The Crew have had success in the knockout round in the past two years, beating DC United and Atlanta United in 2018 and 2017, respectively. Both games were on the road, and the underdog Crew found ways to win. A single-elimination playoff format will help keep that underdog energy alive throughout the entire postseason run and could lead to more success.
“For all the playoffs…they fell short a little bit in the end,” Porter said. “It’s my job to build off of it and put trophies in the trophy case.”