"Old man" Gaven leading Columbus into battle at Chicago

25-year-old veteran's return has Crew on verge of Conference title

Eddie Gaven

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The latter part of October not only brings out the vibrant colors of the leaves in Columbus, but also the annual “I can’t believe Eddie Gaven’s not older” talk.

Gaven will complete his ninth MLS season at some point during the playoffs, making him a grizzled veteran. This despite the fact that he turns just 25 on Tuesday.

Now more than ever, the Columbus Crew (13-12-8, 47 points) are relying on the outside midfielder – who began his career in 2003 with the MetroStars – for leadership and box-to-box play.

Although he did not repeat as the team’s most valuable player at the awards ceremony on Monday (defender Chad Marshall won), the case can easily be made that the Crew wouldn’t be in a position to claim the Eastern Conference without Gaven.

The team won its first two games after Gaven suffered a bruised right leg on Aug. 5 at Colorado, but secured only one point in the next six matches for the worst stretch in team history.

Gaven returned on Oct. 2 to end the tailspin with a diving header in the 60th minute that provided a 2-1 win against D.C. United.

“It was huge,” coach Robert Warzycha said of the goal.

The Crew followed with a 3-0 win at New England last week to clinch a playoff spot and will take the East if they win at Chicago on Saturday in the season finale (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) and Sporting Kansas City does not win at D.C. the same night.

SKC and Philadelphia, who ended their season with a 1-0 loss at New York on Thursday, are a point up on the Crew.

Is it a coincidence that the Crew have won two straight with Gaven once again running up and down the flank?

“It didn’t have anything to do with me coming back,” he said. “It was a matter of the team coming out of a funk and getting back on track.”

Warzycha facetiously agreed that Gaven adds nothing special, “only hard work, some composure, jelling in the midfield, fouls in the right place, some goals and a couple of assists. That’s all."

In reality, Gaven is creating space and chances for others with his dangerous runs and ability to score (five goals) keeping defenses honest. Emilio Rentería assisted on both of Andrés Mendoza’s goals vs. the Revolution as the forward duo had their most effective pairing of the season.

“I just do what I’ve always done,” Gaven said. “I go out there and work hard for the team, try to create problems for the other team, play good defense and get into the other team’s box and try to get off shots and a few crosses.”

The Crew, like they did at New England, will try to exploit a team that has been eliminated from postseason contention. But Warzycha expects the Fire (8-9-16, 40) are itching to be a spoiler and not see their longtime rival celebrate a conference regular-season title at Toyota Park.

“It’s all about us going on the field and having the right attitude and wanting it more,” Warzycha said.