Beating a lower-division side isn't always easy for MLS clubs in the early rounds of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, just ask the 2011 and 2012 Columbus Crew squads. Or ask this year's Seattle Sounders FC, LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes; all of whom were beaten by lower-tier foes in 2013 Open Cup play.
To avoid the fate the Black & Gold have faced in the tournament the past two seasons, Crew Head Coach Robert Warzycha mixed experienced veterans such as Federico Higuaín and Eddie Gaven with younger players like Chad Barson and Aaron Schoenfeld in his team's third-round clash with USL PRO club Dayton Dutch Lions FC on Wednesday night. Aside from goalkeeper Matt Lampson, every player that saw the field for the Crew Wednesday has earned MLS minutes so far in 2013.
"This first round is usually really difficult to be honest with you," Warzycha said after the match. "You're playing in a matchup with a smaller club and this is the time for the small clubs to
"We were going to match the players on the field, veterans with some young players, so we wanted to take this game very serious. That's why Federico was on the field. He's the team captain. He wants to play. That's a message for everybody that we're taking this game seriously."
The move paid off as the Crew prevailed, 2-1, behind second-half tallies from Gaven and Justin Meram. However, the win didn't come without difficulty as the upset-minded Dutch Lions FC tested the Black & Gold.
"We know these teams are going to come out hard," defender Eric Gehrig said. "Just because they're in the lower leagues doesn't mean that we're necessarily that much better. At the end of the day, we have to treat it like a regular MLS game because we know they're going to come out firing. It's their Super Bowl."
"It was tough," Meram echoed. "[Dutch Lions FC] were flying. This is their World Cup; this is everything they're looking for. They put this on their calendar and say, 'We're going to go beat the Crew.' They did last year."
Warzycha's decision to mix veterans with young players came at a price, however. Midfielder Eddie Gaven left the match with an apparent leg injury in the 86th minute after a challenge from a Dutch Lions defender.
Gaven will undergo testing on Thursday. At that time, Warzycha and his staff will know more information regarding his injury.