Six weeks ago, the Columbus Crew seemed capable of running away with first place in the Eastern Conference.

Their focus now is simply on making the playoffs.

The struggling Crew try to avoid losing a fourth straight league match for the first time in six years Sunday afternoon when they face D.C. United in their home finale.

After beating Philadelphia 2-1 on Aug. 20, Columbus (11-12-8) had a five-point lead atop the East. The Crew have managed just one point in six games since, and now find themselves hanging on to one of four final wild-card spots - just outside of the East's three automatic qualifying spots.

"I liked our position six games ago when we had (40) points and everyone else had 30," Columbus coach Robert Warzycha said after Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City.

The Crew could have taken over first place in the conference with a win Wednesday, but an own goal by defender Julius James in the 74th minute sealed Columbus' fate. It was the third straight defeat for the Crew, who haven't lost four consecutive MLS games since April 23-May 14, 2005.

"We have to keep going," Warzycha said. "We have three games left and we'll try to win them all."

Although that stretch starts in Columbus, United has more victories on the road (five) than at home (four) - the league's lone team that can say that - and the Crew gave up seven goals while going 0-2-1 on their home turf in September.

They had outscored opponents 6-2 in winning their three previous matches there.

Columbus will also be missing midfielder Robbie Rogers, who left Wednesday's game with a hamstring strain and has been ruled out against D.C.. Before departing, Rogers recorded his team-leading seventh assist, setting up Emilio Renteria's game-tying goal in the 34th minute.

Rogers also provided Columbus' only score against United in the season opener, converting a penalty kick in the 84th minute. It was too late, however, as D.C. scored the game's first three goals en route to a 3-1 victory.

United (9-9-11) is just outside the playoff cutoff, but still has five matches remaining and can pull even with Columbus with a win.

Other contenders like New York, Chicago and the Crew enter Sunday with three games left, while Colorado only has two.

"It's definitely a positive. We can say, 'OK, look, we still have two or three games in hand on some other teams,'" forward Dwayne De Rosario said after Thursday's 3-2 loss at Philadelphia. "We definitely can't take that for granted. But we have to focus on the task at hand and that is this Sunday against Columbus first."

De Rosario scored his 14th goal Thursday, his 11th in 14 matches since joining D.C. He left in the 62nd minute with a knee contusion, but is not expected to miss anytime.

United forward Charlie Davies, who has 11 goals, scored twice against the Crew in the season opener.