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Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew: Three Questions With Massive Report

And...we’re back.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long season for the Columbus Crew: Caleb Porter’s outfit started out 4-1-1 and at least temporarily looked to be a club that would be in the hunt for a playoff spot. One of those 4 wins was a water-soaked 2-0 win over Atlanta United up at MAPFRE Stadium

After that, the wheels fell off. Columbus beat New England 1-0 at home on April 6; in the 16 games following, it gained just 5 points out of a possible 48. It’s righted the ship somewhat (it’s drawn 5 times and lost just once in its last 9 matches), but a spot in the postseason appears to not be in the cards.

So what’s up with the Crew? Let’s get some insight from Patrick Murphy, one of the managing editors at SBN’s Massive Report,

1. Things didn’t start out too badly for the Crew, but it seems that shortly after they beat Atlanta United, they hit a downturn and are now on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. What can you point to that’s changed with this club?

The players. The fast start -- 4-1-1 -- was with largely the first team on the field. The lone exception was in the loss at the Philadelphia Union when the Crew had a number of guys away on international duty. Shortly after that first game with Atlanta, the injury bug started to set in. Then players left for the Gold Cup, which included the permanent departure of Zack Steffen.

A stretch of 16 games from mid-April to mid-July saw the Black & Gold win just once while constantly shuffling the lineup due to players being out. Caleb Porter said time and time again that Columbus was just trying to find a way to stay competitive, which the team did despite the results, given the number of absences and wasn’t able to work on themselves much over that stretch. Changes were made in the summer with additions in goal and in the midfield as well as depth at forward and those started to make an impact of late as the Crew has only lost once in the team’s last nine games. But given the summer swoon, it’s likely too little too late.

2. Tagging off that, how does the team maintain its focus instead of switching off due to potentially dire playoff hopes? Do they feel that they go in relishing the opportunity to play spoiler to Atlanta’s playoff seeding on Saturday?

If you ask the players and coaches, they say they’re still fighting for a playoff spot. But they have to say that, right? With that said, I do believe there is motivation from this team to prove they are better than the standings say and get positive results to have a good feeling going into the offseason. As I mentioned, the Black & Gold are playing better and finding a way to get results of late and finally have some momentum. Will it result in the playoffs? Probably not. But could it set the team up to do some good things next year? That is the hope.

3. We get to welcome our old friend, Romario Williams, back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time since being traded to Columbus. How has he looked in his short tenure with the Crew?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Good. He scored on his debut, coming off the bench against the Chicago Fire in mid-July. He has been largely used to come into games late and either replace or play with Gyasi Zardes. Williams did get the start a couple of weeks ago against New York City FC but played with a largely reserve squad in a rotational match and couldn’t do too much in that contest. He is now battling with Jordan Hamilton, who also came over during the summer from Toronto FC, to be the backup to Zardes going forward.