Columbus Crew SC opens the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs on the road against a higher seed who poses a notable (and new) home-field advantage. Sound familiar?
Similar to 2017's postseason opener at Atlanta, the fifth-seeded Black & Gold travel to fourth-seeded D.C. United and its new stadium, Audi Field, on Nov. 1 for an Eastern Conference Knockout Round match.
Winners of five straight home matches with a 12-2 scoring edge during that span, it’s safe to say D.C. United feeds off that Audi Field energy. However, United won’t be the only team trying to channel the expected hype and excitement for their own advantage.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” said Federico Higuaín. “You know, what can I tell you. Are you going to feel scared? Of course, but the scared turns you on. You have to use that feeling as an engine. It has to be your energy.”
Win or go home. All in. Whatever the saying may be, of course, there’s a different level of expectation, both on the field from the players and from the supporters in the stands.
For Higuaín, it’s about taking in the moment, especially being in a similar situation almost one year ago to the day.
“There are a couple young people, a couple veteran people as you say, but we know it’s going to be nice, man,” said Higuaín on the veterans' role before a road knockout round match. “A nice stadium, a big crowd, we have to enjoy it – we have to enjoy it”
Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter emphasized that understanding the difference in the aura is the biggest characteristic Crew SC’s veteran presence can help with.
“I think it’s just knowing what the game is going to be like, what the atmosphere is going to be like,” Berhalter said. “Having a good understanding of that helps you deal with it when you’re playing. There will be a different intensity to the game and the guys are prepared for it.”
On the other hand, even on the road, there is no substitution for hard work, and with that, leadership by example.
“To be honest, you just have to take it game by game,” said forward Gyasi Zardes. “Anything can happen. It’s the game of soccer. Like I said before, when I won it [MLS Cup] in 2014, we took it game by game. You can’t listen to what anyone else is saying outside of our camp and we just have to give it our all as soon as we step on the pitch.”
At the end of the day, whether at MAPFRE Stadium or on the road, team unity and hard work can transcend any perceived home-field advantage.
“I believe we are all professionals and we know what type of game this is all about,” said defender Harrison Afful. “So, we the experienced guys, also talk to the young guys and they are always ready to listen, and when they get the opportunity they deliver and help the club.”
Kickoff at Audi Field is set for 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcasted on FS1 and UniMás. Supporters can also listen to the action on CD 102.5 FM or stream the audio from ColumbusCrewSC.com.