Depending on who is talking, Saturday’s match against Seattle Sounders FC (7:30 pm ET, Watch for FREE online) is either just No. 8 of a 34-game schedule, or one that was circled on the calendar.
The return to Columbus of Sounders’ coach Sigi Schmid, who in the same capacity led the Crew to their only MLS Cup title in 2008, sparks a range of emotions. That the Sounders have not lost to the Crew in five meetings adds luster for some.
“This is a game I wanted to be back for,” defender Danny O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke has not played this season after undergoing knee surgery in November and had targeted Seattle for his return, but he will not be activated from the injured list for four more games.
“It’s a little bit disappointing,” he said. “Seattle is a good team and obviously playing against Sigi is always good. It’s not bad blood. Anytime you play an old coach you read it in the media, you hear it from the fans. I’m sure when Phil Jackson went to the Lakers and the Bulls played them next there were guys on the Bulls who it meant a little bit more.”
Since Schmid joined the expansion Sounders in 2009 his teams have:
- Ended the Crew’s then-MLS record 22-game regular season home unbeaten streak with a 1-0 victory on Oct. 3, 2009.
- Handed the Crew a 4-0 defeat on Sept. 18. The loss equaled the Crew’s worst at Crew Stadium.
- Tied the Crew twice in Seattle in MLS play.
- Won a second straight US Open Cup with a 2-1 victory over the Crew at home on Oct. 5
Despie all that, goalkeeper William Hesmer said there’s no added incentive to beat his former coach.
“We’re reaching there trying to call it a rivalry just because of those things,” he said.
Robert Warzycha, Schmid’s assistant in Columbus who succeeded him, said the game is not about the coaches.
“We are friends but when we go on the field we compete,” he said. “I want the three points not to beat him but because I want to win.”
The Crew (3-1-3) have not lost since the season opener at D.C. United, while Seattle (3-3-3) saw their six-game unbeaten streak end with a 2-1 loss at DC on Wednesday.
“They’re going to be hungry after that loss to DC,” O’Rourke said. “They’re one of the top teams.”
The question mark for the Crew is center back Chad Marshall, who was limited in practice this week because of a sprained ankle. If he’s healthy and the lineup holds to form from last week’s 2-1 win against Vancouver, six of the starters weren’t around for the Schmid era in Columbus.
“I don’t think it means as much to those guys,” O’Rourke said.
But to the holdovers from the magical year of 2008 - midfielder Robbie Rogers, an MLS Best XI honoree during that championship season – it looks like it means quite a bit.
“I’m very, very excited for this game,” he said. “I want to help my team out. I want to help us win. It’s always like that but this game means a little bit more.”