Columbus Crew SC and D.C. United are facing off for their third meeting this season, but this time there’s more than three points on the line. In a battle for second place in the East and a bye to the Conference semifinals, Sunday marks “Decision Day” for both teams.
The 2015 series between Crew SC and United is split with D.C. taking the first match 2-0 in the nation’s capital on May 2 and the Black & Gold returning the favor with a 2-1 win at RFK Stadium in September.
Crew SC vice captain and midfielder Wil Trapp says the previous two matches have shown that D.C. is threatening, particularly on the break.
“We have to be patient because they’re a dangerous team on the counterattack and in transition moments,” he says, “so being smart with our possession, not getting caught in bad spots and finishing our chances—that’s always the biggest thing.”
Scoring goals may be a little bit tougher for the Black & Gold on Decision Day, as they’ll be without two major contributors on offense. Kei Kamara and Federico Higuaín are suspended due to yellow card accumulation. But Crew SC’s bench is deep and different players have gotten the job done in previous matches.
“Some other guys are going to have to step up. Some other guys are going to get chances,” Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter says. “Having said that, we know it’s going to be very difficult to replace the quality of Kei Kamara and Federico Higuaín. It’s a good opportunity for other guys to get a chance in a game that means a lot. That’s why we built this team.”
Striker Aaron Schoenfeld says whoever gets called upon will be ready. “It’s pretty competitive out here every day," he says. "Our guys are begging for their chance, and some guys are going to have to step up.”
Midfielder Ethan Finlay, who has been a major contributor to Crew SC’s offense with 10 goals and 13 assists this season, says having a few different faces on the field could play to Crew SC’s advantage Sunday.
“We want to be able to be comfortable and know that we can insert guys that can still do the job,” Finlay says. “I’m very comfortable with that and I would say our whole group is. Whoever starts up top, whoever starts in Pipa’s position—guys will even bring something a little bit different that D.C. might not be prepared for. I think that’ll play to our advantage.”
In its last meeting with D.C. United, Crew SC showed that different players can contribute on offense. In Columbus’ 2-1 win over D.C. on September 19, Finlay scored a rather atypical goal for the winger on an assist from centerback Tyson Wahl. Finlay scored on a post-up turn and finish after Michael Parkhurst served a ball from 40 yards out to Kamara who flicked it on to Wahl.
In order to be successful again vs. D.C., Schoenfeld says, the Black & Gold have to be prepared to face an experienced team that will fight the full 90 minutes.
“They’re a team that competes every play,” Schoenfeld says. “They never take plays off. They have 11 guys on the field that are going to compete for every ball, every second ball, every 50-50, so I think it’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be a grind.”
Going into Sunday's match, second-place D.C. holds a slight advantage over third-ranked Crew SC. While Columbus needs a win to secure the second spot in the East, a draw could be enough for United as long as Toronto doesn't defeat Montreal.
“I expect a team that is ready and willing to grind,” Finlay says of D.C. “I don’t think you’re going to see them come in and go super offensive. I think if it’s 0-0 at half, they’re going to be very happy. They’re a team that’s very smart, veterans, guys who are seasoned players that know what’s at stake. They’re not going to panic, and we have to do the same thing.”
The battle for the bye between Crew SC and D.C. United begins at 5 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium. Get your tickets here.