The cut just gets deeper and deeper for Crew defender Danny O’Rourke.
First came his red card at FC Dallas on April 10 for verbally abusing the officials after the Crew yielded the tying goal in stoppage time of a 2-2 draw.
The ejection carried with it an automatic one-game suspension and $250 fine, plus an additional $500 penalty levied by the league for good measure.
But what hurts O’Rourke even more than a thin wallet is missing Saturday’s match, when Real Salt Lake comes to town.
“You never want to sit out, especially a home game against Salt Lake,” he said. “I have that circled on my calendar to get after it.”
He isn’t the only Crew member eyeing a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals.
The last time these teams saw each other, the vanquished Crew were congratulating the RSL players in front of a stunned Columbus crowd. Real Salt Lake entered the series a sub.-500 regular-season team, while the Crew were seeking their second straight MLS Cup after capturing the Supporters’ Shield as the best team in the league two years running.
Instead, RSL used a 1-0 win at home and a 3-2 victory in Columbus en route to their first championship in franchise history.
“They came in here and beat us, knocked us out prematurely we thought,” forward Jason Garey said. “We’re definitely looking forward to the game to say the least.”
The Crew learned last season that being the MLS Cup holder means a bigger bull’s-eye on their gold-clad backs.
“Whenever you’re the defending champion, everyone circles you on their calendar. They want to bring their best game and measure themselves,” Garey said. “People are going to look at Salt Lake that way this year.”
“We’re definitely one of the top teams in the league, so we’re going to have to measure ourselves against them this weekend,” Garey added. “They’re doing the same thing against us because they know we were the Supporters’ Shield winners from last year.”
It’s a point of contention among the Crew that having the best record the past two seasons is overlooked in a league where only the final match matters. The Crew could become the first to win three straight Supporters’ Shields.
“[Real Salt Lake] weren’t the best team last year,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “They got hot at the end and won it.”
Although RSL are 1-2-1, their start looks better than what the Crew went through last season, starting out 0-2-5 before they kicked into gear.
“They are a good team,” Warzycha said. “They are playing well so we have to respect them and take the game seriously. Because they are the champion everyone wants to beat them.”
The Crew (1-0-1) have played the fewest matches of any team in the league this season after having two byes this month. Any advantage they might have gained coming out of the preseason by playing a pair of tough Champions League matches against Toluca of Mexico has probably been lost.
“The guys are sick of training and want to have a real game,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said. “When you’re playing every weekend you’re a little sharper than the guys who aren’t playing every weekend.”
Defender Eric Brunner missed the FC Dallas game with a concussion but could get clearance to start, while Chad Marshall is questionable with a hamstring strain.