While much of the soccer world has focused on the 2014 FIFA World Cup over the past week, the Columbus Crew has been hard at work preparing for the Fifth Round of the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Black & Gold are set to travel to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois to face the Fire in the tournament's round of 16, a trip that the club earned after a 2-1 extra-time victory over NASL side Indy Eleven.
"These events are fun and we're looking forward to playing the game," said Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. "I think the Open Cup is a good opportunity to give guys minutes but also to compete in another format. You get some different venues, different circumstances and the potential for penalty kicks and overtime. I think it's fun."
The situation has changed a bit for the Crew from last week's Open Cup match. With no MLS encounter on the immediate horizon, Berhalter was freer to play a more full-strength side, and indeed many regulars started for the Crew. This time around, not only will red-card suspensions to Daniel Paladini and Adam Bedell limit the Crew boss' options, but a return to League play against FC Dallas on Saturday and several nagging injuries to players like Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain and Agustin Viana might alter Berhalter's thinking. Still, the first-year coach isn't panicking too much about the short-sided nature of his team as it pertains to the League match just three days after this one.
"It may or may not [affect the lineup]," said Berhalter. "It's still a situation where it's two games in a week. It's not the end of the world. It's not three games. We'll be fine."
On the other hand, the timing of the match is positive considering it can be viewed as a tune-up for the awaited return to League play.
"It's good progression," said Berhalter. "If you look at last week, playing the NASL team and now this week playing an MLS team, it's a great progression into starting the regular season again."
Make no mistake, the Crew is taking the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup seriously, and this is a match that players and coach alike want to win, especially considering that the Black & Gold bowed out of this tournament in a Fourth Round match at Toyota Park last season.
"We definitely want to make amends for [last year's match]," said Ethan Finlay. "We want to go in there and try to win the game. We know it's going to be a tough battle. It's a team that we've played recently, so I think them also being a rival, adding all of those things in there, it's a game you want to win."
"Anytime we're on the field, regardless of who's on the field, you want to win," added Berhalter. "You want to have the mentality that you want to win. You build a squad, you have 30 guys on the roster, and you want to give guys chances to play. Guys who have played regularly, you want to get them sharp for Saturday. We're going out there to win a game. It's as simple as that."
Should the Crew advance, it would face the winner of Colorado Rapids/Atlanta Silverbacks on the road in the quarterfinals. The match against Chicago kicks off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET and can be viewed via Chicago-Fire.com on the Crew's matchday page.