Crew ready to kick off Lamar Hunt US Open Cup campaign

OBETZ, Ohio — The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is often a time for MLS teams to test their young players who have not seen much, if any, of the field in league matches.

That will be the case Tuesday as the Crew host the Richmond Kickers (USL PRO) in a third-round match when defender Korey Veeder, forward Aaron Horton and midfielder/defender Eric Gehrig will be among the rookies making their first starts in a meaningful match.

“It should be a good opportunity for guys like me and other rookies to step up and represent the Crew well,” said Gehrig, who played five minutes in his MLS debut Sunday vs. Colorado.

But Columbus will also have a veteran tinge to the lineup.

Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum will try to duplicate his efforts from last season when the Crew made it to the final before losing at Seattle, while winger Robbie Rogers has returned from the US squad that lost to Mexico on Saturday in the championship match of the Gold Cup.

Rogers has not played since a pre-tournament game against Spain on June 4 so he should have fresh legs, but maybe some rust.

“He needs game fitness,” coach Robert Warzycha said.

Rogers will likely start on the right flank with rookie Justin Meram on the opposite side.

The most important development from the match could be the return of defender/midfielder Danny O’Rourke, who has not played a competitive match since undergoing left knee surgery in November. Warzycha said he will start O’Rourke and see how far he can go.

“If he’s good to go and cleared by the medical staff, it’s better probably to put him in at the beginning than the end,” he said.

There will be an interesting pairing up top as the 19-year-old Horton works alongside Jeff Cunningham, one of his idols as a kid growing up in suburban Columbus. Cunningham, 34, is the lone Crew player left from the 2002 squad that won the US Open Cup.

“I still haven’t got an MLS Cup yet, but I’m still proud I was part of the first cup for this organization,” he said.

That campaign began with a win over Richmond, and the Crew would like a repeat performance. This year’s team learned early about the history of the Open Cup, specifically that it’s named for the Crew’s founder.

“They know everything about Lamar Hunt,” Warzycha said. “We talked about that before the season. That’s the first thing we did, have a video and just talk about it.”

Gehrig said getting psyched to play a team from a lower division will not be a problem for any player looking to make a statement.

“Any time you’re playing for hardware it means something,” he said. “It would be pretty cool to be known as the best team in the United States.”