Before Toronto FC, before the Chicago Fire, D.C. United cemented itself as the Columbus Crew's top rival. While the rivalry is not geographical and doesn't spurn the kind of antics from supporters that Toronto FC or Fire do, the Crew-United series has something bigger: history.
A week after Major League Soccer's "Rivalry Week," the two charter members of the League will meet in a nationally televised clash at RFK Stadium on Saturday (NBC Sports Network/3:30 P.M. ET).
Currently in his 18th season with the Black & Gold and fifth as the club's Head Coach, Robert Warzycha has seen everything the rivalry has to offer.
From 1997-99, the two sides met in three consecutive playoff series with United prevailing every time. It wasn't without a fight, however. What D.C. brought to the table in United States National Team talent during its early years in John Harkes, Jeff Agoos, Eddie Pope and Richie Williams, along with potent Bolivian attackers Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry, the Crew matched in grit and determination. Living up to the club's mantra of "America's Hardest Working Team" with blue-collar players like Brian McBride, Brian Maisonneuve, Mike Clark, Thomas Dooley and Warzycha, the Black & Gold built a rivalry with United that stands strong today. The Crew holds a 24-31-8 all-time record against its rivals.
"D.C. always had very, very good teams when I was a player," Warzycha explained. "It was always tough to go to their place because they had almost all National Team players at that time. We played some very good games and it was always difficult for us to win [in Washington]-- we didn't win there until 2000."
Columbus and D.C. have won a combined 17 major club trophies. And while both clubs have struggled through short periods of futility, the Crew and D.C. United have always risen back to the top of the MLS Eastern Conference. Now in 2013, both sides are focused on capturing more this season.
"It's a little bit different now, both teams went through makeovers," the Crew Head Coach said. "I think the games have evened up. We've seen some wins over there, and we've lost a few too. Usually games are very attractive-- we score goals and they score goals."
Each of the past two seasons, one team has eliminated the other from playoff contention to add fuel to the rivalry's fire. Last season as the Crew threw players forward for a goal to keep playoff hope alive in an October match at RFK Stadium, United's Lewis Neal found an open net on a counterattack to break fans' hearts back in Columbus. In October 2011, it was Eddie Gaven's diving header to beat United and crush the Black-and-Red's playoff hopes in a 2-1 win at Crew Stadium.
"It's part of the game," Warzycha said of the rivalry's escalation the past two seasons. "D.C. did it to us last year, we did it to them the year before. It's nothing personal, that's just how it goes."
Chad Marshall, who was a late scratch last October's match in Washington, is eager to return to D.C. this weekend to help the Crew earn its first victory at RFK Stadium since 2010.
"It would've been nice to play. It was a huge game, and I was disappointed to miss it," the two-time MLS Defender of the Year said.
"It's a big game for us this weekend, we'll try to do better on the road than we did last year. Hopefully, we go over there and play well."