OBETZ, Ohio – The numbers suggest there isn’t much to the series between the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake since the Utah team’s inception in 2005.
Columbus lead in the regular season 9-4-1, including wins in four of the five past meetings, and the lone time in seven tries the Crew didn’t take full points at home was a 2-1 loss in 2006.
Yet those who have been with the Ohio club for more than two seasons know the stats don’t measure the extent of a rivalry that was red-hot for several years, and still gets players motivated heading into Saturday’s match at Crew Stadium (8 pm ET; watch LIVE online).
Real Salt Lake stunned the defending MLS Cup champions in the first round of the 2009 playoffs by winning 1-0 at home then rallying from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 win at Crew Stadium. The Crew sought a measure of revenge in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in the late winter of 2011 but managed only a 0-0 draw at home and suffered a 4-1 defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“For the guys who have been on the team since 2009, [Saturday] definitely means something knowing they knocked us out of the playoffs,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “That was a tough one to swallow.”
Added Columbus captain Chad Marshall: “Obviously, we have a lot of guys who are new but for the ones who were here, they remember those losses."
The Crew (5-5-4) have only six players left from the 2009 season, including ‘keeper Andy Gruenebaum. Subbing for the injured Will Hesmer 11 months ago he posted a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake for Columbus’ first win at Rio Tinto.
He’ll be in goal again Saturday. He’s not focused on past games, however, but on how RSL are second overall in points (32) with a 10-5-2 record.
“They’re a great team top to bottom,” he said. “If you don’t have your best game against them you’re probably going to come out on the wrong end of it. We know that.”
Neither team will have their captain as Marshall sits again while recovering from a concussion and Kyle Beckerman is suspended because of caution points accumulation.
Even so, Crew head coach Robert Warzycha remains wary.
“They’re playing good enough to say that’s the team to beat even though they lost the last two games at home,” he said.
The Crew might be bolstered by the return from injuries of defensive midfielder Danny O’Rourke, who could replace rookie Kevan George, and central midfielder Milovan Mirosevic. Mirosevic could possibly come in for Justin Meram to direct the offense.
“If Milo’s on the field, we want to go through him, which everybody probably knows,” Warzycha said. “That’s why we need other people to do something.”
He’s considering pairing forwards Emilio Rentería and Aaron Schoenfeld in the starting lineup for the first time.
“It’s about time, yeah?” Warzycha said.