All-time series: United lead 22-18-8.
Fox Soccer Channel
A mere 72 hours after they scratched and clawed their way through an ill-tempered, 120-minute US Open Cup cliffhanger, United and the Crew trudge back onto the RFK turf for a league match.
Columbus broke the home team’s heart—and killed off their final hopes for 2010 hardware—with Wednesday night’s 2-1 come-from-behind victory, and aside from raw fatigue, there’s little reason to believe the game’s bruising, contentious tone won’t carry over to the weekend. United are desperate to exit the basement spot in the standings, while the Crew are tracking the LA Galaxy in pursuit of a third straight Supporters’ Shield and fending off a push from New York for East supremacy. The upshot is that both coaches have little choice but to field many of the same players.
“I think it’s going to be a battle,” D.C. left back Marc Burch said after the US Open Cup semi. “I feel like they’ve got a couple of dirty players out there that made some dirty plays, and I think it’s going to be payback on Saturday. Even though this was way more important than Saturday for us, we’ve got to prove something against them and that will happen on Saturday.”
Just when they think they’ve hit rock bottom, United keep hitting new lows in this dispiriting season. Elimination from the Open Cup brought another gut punch, to say nothing of the match’s controversial circumstances.
“I don’t mean to be dramatic about it, but this is a tough loss,” said D.C. boss Ben Olsen. “We’ll regroup, but it might take a day. And then we have to try and get a result this weekend against what will be a pretty tired Columbus…versus maybe a tired D.C. United team.”
United have eight games remaining, starting with this weekend’s rematch. Olsen has urged his squad to haul themselves out of last place as a point of pride for all involved, and the message relayed at the time of Curt Onalfo’s firing remains: Every game is an audition for a role in next year’s team.
The Crew flashed their championship pedigree on Wednesday, overcoming real adversity to outlast D.C. in the Washington heat and advance to the Open Cup’s final stage in the midst of an exhausting stretch in their schedule.
“Coming to D.C. is never easy for us,” said veteran defender Frankie Hejduk. “And you know, it was one of those games when we all came together and battled, and some guys stepped up and had some big games. We fought hard and fought through, and now we’re in a final.”
The pace hardly eases up in the week ahead, so head coach Robert Warzycha will surely hope to rotate some of his run-down regulars on Saturday. Yet he will not have Adam Moffat as an option; he is suspended through yellow-card accumulation, meaning Danny O’Rourke or the rarely used Kevin Burns could get the nod alongside Brian Carroll in the midfield.
Heroes & Villains
Pablo Hernandez vs. Danny O’Rourke. United’s Argentine striker was ejected following a tussle with O’Rourke on Wednesday. That red card has no bearing in league. Hernandez is available and he’ll be eager to gain redemption—perhaps by scoring on the Crew again.
Given his actions, O’Rourke was fortunate not to see red himself on Wednesday night. But the drama obscured his hard work at the base of the Crew midfield. He’ll need to be just as disciplined this time around, especially if—and when—he’s provoked by a seething United side.
Stat that makes you go "Hmm..."
If Columbus finish strong down the stretch and secure a third straight MLS Supporters’ Shield, they will match United’s all-time league record of four such honors.