Columbus Crew interim head coach Ezra Hendrickson insisted his side will keep going until the playoffs are mathematically impossible to reach ahead of their home clash with Orlando City.
The hosts are in search of a first win in three games after suffering their first home defeat against New York Red Bulls last time out.
The Black and Gold have moved to within five points of the last playoff spot, and with just three matches left to play, there is little margin for error but Hendrickson implored his side to keep going.
“My message to them was, ‘Until we’re mathematically eliminated, we keep our heads up and we keep playing'” Hendrickson said.
“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.
“You never know what’s going to happen. It’s a little difficult, now, to get into the playoffs but our motto, our mantra is, ‘We want to defend the Cup.'”
The Lions are fourth in the Eastern Conference with a four-point lead over the chasing pack following a 2-2 draw with New England Revolution last time out and head coach Oscar Pareja called for a response from his team.
“We’re all in the same mode of trying to add points and trying to fight for results and I think Columbus has its own too,” Pareja said. “We have to go one game at a time and address this past game (against New England), put our shoes back on and try to refresh ourselves.
“We’re professionals, we’re ready to prepare for the game against Columbus and go fight for those points.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Columbus Crew – Miguel Berry
Miguel Berry, who was starting in place of injured US international Gyasi Zardes, scored the equalizer against the Red Bulls. It was Berry’s sixth goal of the 2021 campaign.
Orlando City – Nani
Nani netted his first goal in his last 10 MLS games against the Revolution last time out as Orlando looked to secure a vital win.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– After winning just one of the first nine MLS meetings (D3 L5), Orlando City has won five straight matches against the Crew. The five straight wins marks Orlando’s longest winning streak against any opponent in its MLS history.
– Columbus has lost 10 of its last 16 matches (W4 D2) dating back to late July. Including last season’s playoffs and the MLS is Back knockout stage, the Crew had suffered just nine defeats in 43 previous MLS matches since the start of last season.
– Orlando City drew New England 2-2 on Sunday despite leading 2-0 in the 80th minute. It was the first time Orlando City failed to win a match in which it let by two or more goals in the 80th minute, having won the previous 31 times it led in the 80th minute or later.
– Miguel Berry scored his sixth goal of the season on Saturday despite playing just 573 total minutes this season. He has the most goals of any player to play fewer than 800 minutes in MLS this season.
– Nani scored his 10th goal of the season in Orlando City’s draw with New England on Sunday, the second time he’s scored double figure goals in a season for Orlando (12 in 2019). Nani is the second player with multiple 10-goal seasons for Orlando City after Cyle Larin, who did so three times (2015, 2016, 2017).