For the second consecutive season, Columbus Crew SC (14-11-9, 51 pts.) opens the postseason on the road in an Eastern Conference Knockout Round match as the Black & Gold travel to Audi Field to face D.C. United (14-11-9, 51 pts.) on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. ET (FS1, UniMás, CD 102.5 FM).
Coming off a momentous home win against Minnesota United FC to seal its fourth postseason berth in the last five seasons under Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, Columbus heads to one of Major League Soccer's hottest home teams in D.C. United, who are 12-2-1 at Audi Field.
D.C. defeated Crew SC 1-0 on April 14 at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, prior to the opening of Audi Field in July. Less than a month before, Crew SC defeated United 3-1 in the first meeting of the season at MAPFRE Stadium on March 24.
Needless to say, a lot has changed since those early season match-ups, particularly for D.C. United with the addition of Wayne Rooney, who leads the team with 12 goals despite coming on in July.
“I think the team [D.C. United] has changed this year,” Berhalter said.
“With the addition of Wayne Rooney and with the high-level play of [Luciano] Acosta they’ve taken their game to a different gear. I think Ben [Olsen’s] always had ideas like this. I think it’s been difficult to execute them, potentially because of personnel, but now you see they are scoring some good goals. It’s a very good team and it’s going to be a difficult game.”
It’s very much a battle of momentum, albeit in different stages.
D.C. United comes in with five straight wins at Audi Field while Crew SC is back on track following a near-perfect ending to the season with a career performance from Gyasi Zardes, who recorded his first professional hat trick in 3-2 victory on Oct. 28.
“Professionally I’ve been chasing this goal of mine for a long time and to finally get it with this group of guys, it's an amazing accomplishment and achievement.” Zardes said. “It’s great that it has come around this time because now it’s playoffs. The regular season is over and you win, you get to keep on playing; you lose and you go home, so we can carry that momentum into our next match against D.C.”
Defender Harrison Afful spoke on what the team concept means going into Thursday against a United team that has been in a different run of form since Rooney's arrival.
"You know in soccer, one man can make change in the club," Afful said. "We’re not going to put this in our heads. It’s about teamwork and we believe in our group and believe in each other."
D.C. comes in with the second-best home record in MLS with a 13-2-2 record and 37 goals scored while conceding 17. Meanwhile, Crew SC boasted the League’s top road defense, statistically, for much of the season before ending the year with the fourth-fewest goals conceded on the road with 24.
Seven-year Crew SC veteran Federico Higuaín looks forward to the moment and described the meeting as what postseason match-ups, at their core, truly are – two respected teams going head to head.
“They are a very good team,” Higuaín said. “They are in a very good moment. They play in a beautiful stadium. It’s gonna be a big crowd. But yeah, we respect them – they are good. But also we know that teams around the League respect us. We are a club that has been playing this type of football since four or five years ago, and in the past couple of seasons we’ve done good.”
Thursday’s match represents the ninth all-time playoff meeting between the two MLS originals, with D.C. United holding a 6-2-0 record over Crew SC and 5-0-0 record at home.
Be sure to join fellow Black & Gold supporters for the official Crew SC Watch Party presented by Budweiser on Thursday, Nov. 1 at Fadó in Dublin!