VANCOUVER, B.C – Columbus Crew SC are still in the hunt for a spot in the MLS playoffs, but the clock is ticking. The margin for error is shrinking and the Crew find themselves in a difficult spot as they look to sneak into the playoffs with three matches remaining.
Colombus sits 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 9-15-7 record and 34 points. The New England Revolution currently hold the seventh and final spot with 40 points from a 10-10-10 record. Columbus must run the table and hope it can get some help from others.
Columbus coach Caleb Porter and his Columbus squad will take on Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday at B.C. Place. Columbus needs to secure all three points.
“It’s a must-win game,” Columbus Crew SC’s Gyasi Zardes told Pro Soccer USA in Vancouver. “We have to win. From the starting whistle, we have to be aggressive as possible.”
Zardes, Columbus’ leading goal scorer, said he will do everything he can to lead his team to the playoffs. The 28-year-old has turned into an MLS scout of sorts. Zardes has watched the Whitecaps’ recent matches against Houston, New York City FC and Montreal and learned more about Vancouver.
“I have a little bit of time at home to pop on the TV,” Zardes said. “It just so happens that they’re playing. I know they’re a good team, the results don’t show it, but it’s going to be a good game.”
An up tempo approach from Columbus could hurt the Crew if they aren’t solid defensively. Vancouver’s Yordy Reyna, Tosaint Ricketts, In-Beom Hwang and Fredy Montero could potentially be dangerous on the counter.
“I think we just have to balance that out,” Zardes said. “When we’re attacking, being in good positions just in case the ball turns over. Last game, was a transition game. We were transitioning to Atlanta’s half, and vice versa. We just have to really try and control the game.”
The Whitecaps have already been eliminated from the MLS playoff race. With a 7-15-9 record and sitting in last place in the Western Conference, Vancouver has shifted into a spoiler role.
Vancouver centerback Doneil Henry knows how dangerous Zardes can be. They have played each other several times during both club and national teaam matches.
How will Henry try to stop Zardes?
“I just run. Running and then I defend,” Henry said. “Gyasi has always been a good player. He’s proven since he was at L.A. (Galaxy), he went to Columbus, he’s doing the same thing, scoring goals in numbers. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he’s a top player in this league.”
Saturday afternoon could be an appetizer for what’s to come in the fall. Canada will take on U.S. Soccer during a pair of crucial Concacaf Nations League matches.
The teams will play Tuesday, Oct. 15, at BMO Field in Toronto and Friday, Nov. 15, at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.
“They’re two important games in our group because both of our opponents have already started playing,” Zardes said. “Canada, I believe beat Cuba 6-0 and 1-0 the last game. It’s extremely important that we get a result against Canada and Cuba.”
The Brampton, Ontario native, isn’t expected to play in Canada’s home match versus U.S. Soccer. Henry picked up a red card during Canada’s win over Cuba. The 75th ranked Canadians will play without Henry unless an appeal overturns his suspension.
Henry said he hasn’t looked ahead to the looming matchup with the U.S.
“I don’t know our tactics yet, what we’re going to do, who is going to play. It’s just Columbus right now.”
The Canada versus U.S. preparation will have to wait momentarily because Columbus is still pushing to make the MLS playoffs and the Whitecaps are focusing on stopping the Crew.