Columbus Crew SC and Orlando City SC have played exactly two times in their history, and the phrase “rivalry” is already being tossed around.
The sides have combined for ten cards in their two matches, including a dismissal in the first half of each – one for a dangerous, studs-up lunge from OCSC’s Rafael Ramos and another for a controversial goal-line handball called on Crew SC captain Michael Parkhurst.
And while the violent tackle from Ramos in the teams’ April 18 matchup created a contentious atmosphere, things were even more tense throughout Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Orlando.
Players got in each other’s faces, fans threw bottles and seven players were carded. After the match, fan blogs and social media arguments between Columbus and Orlando supporters were easy to find. Crew SC midfielder Justin Meram acknowledged that emotions were running high between two engaged teams.
“I think it’s just competitive,” he said. “They have a lot of competitive guys, and you know how we are. We’re going to come into any place, no matter the environment, and play the way we play. So I think it makes it tricky for a lot of other teams.”
Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter agreed, making sure to point out that he thought Saturday’s match “got ruined a little bit” by the decision to eject Parkhurst and to express his desire to see the two sides finish their third meeting of the season on Aug. 1 with all 22 players on the field.
“It was tense,” he said. “You have the fans, bless their hearts, they were great. They’re going at it, we’re going at it, refs are going at it, players are going at it. It was quite an atmosphere. I guess you like it. You don’t want to take it too far, but I guess some of that is good.”
Midfielder Ethan Finlay said it’s a bit too early to call the matchup a rivalry.
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“It’s hard to say,” he said. “Rivalries just kind of create themselves; you can’t push that onto them. Obviously we play them once more this year, and we’ll be back down here to settle the score that we think is still unfinished business.”
And for goalkeeper Steve Clark, the hard-fought point in intense enemy territory – Parkhurst was ejected in the 15th minute, leaving Crew SC down a man for well over an hour in front of 31,430 at the Citrus Bowl – could be an important catalyst for the rest of the team’s season, which will continue on Wednesday night at Philadelphia (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“I really feel like this really brought us together,” he said. “It would have been easy to fold up, but I think this game, in the end, is really going to bring us together. You saw before the red card the way we played and what it does to teams. Then the effort – guys were taking balls off the face – was amazing to watch and great to be a part of.”