Chester, PA – The Columbus Crew have the luxury of having at least one match in hand on every team it trails in the Eastern Conference, but coach Robert Warzycha said it was important to focus on one game at a time.
"We have to be thinking about one thing: how can we go to (Philadelphia)," he said on the club's website, "and get three points."
Columbus (10-8-6) has won two straight during a four-game unbeaten streak, and sits just four points out of fifth place and a postseason berth. With just 24 matches played, the Crew can make up ground on all of its playoff challengers.
But if it wastes even one opportunity, that advantage can quickly disappear.
"We are in the time of the season that we have to win games if we want to even think about the playoffs," Warzycha added. "Winning games gets us into the playoffs."
The fifth match of seven in a 21-day stretch follows the death of 22-year-old midfielder Kirk Urso, who died early this month.
Coupled with the emotions of losing a teammate, and the addition of designated player Federico Higuain, the Crew have been a different teammate in their last few games.
"I think we're motivated every game to get three points," Crew defender Chad Marshall said. "I think we know at this point in the season how important each game is, especially against Eastern Conference rivals.
"We're going to be looking to play better than last time we went (to PPL Park) and trying to get three points."
Philadelphia (7-12-4) beat Columbus, 1-0, on a penalty kick from Gabriel Gomez in their first meeting on April 14. The teams will also play Sept. 29 at Crew Stadium in Columbus.
Columbus is just 3-5-4 on the road, but Marshall, who can set a record for the most minutes played for a Crew player in history, and the rest of the club are in a groove ahead of this match.
The Crew edged the New England Revolution, 4-3, in their last match as Higuain and Jairo Arrieta each had two goals.
Philadelphia is just 5-5-2 at PPL Park this season, and is 0-2-2 and has just two goals scored in four August games. The Union tied Real Salt Lake, 0-0, on Friday in their last fixture.
"We played some good soccer at times. It's just at this point of the season, the position that we're in, we (need to) find a way to turn those into three points and not just one," Union midfielder Brian Carroll said.
The Union are just one place behind Columbus in eighth in the East, but trail the seventh-place Crew by 11 points. With just 23 games played, the Union can still win a lot of points. But it cannot afford to waste any more chances.
Earning enough points to stay off the foot of the table might be a better goal than contending for a playoff berth. Last-place Toronto FC is just four points away, and a fall to last would be disastrous one year after a playoff berth.