The Crew commence Open Cup action tonight by playing fellow Ohio team the Dayton Dutch Lions in the Third Round Game. It's the first time these teams have played during an official competition, but they did play a friendly at the University of Dayton's Baujan Field in June of 2010 with the Crew coming out 3-0 winners.
Ideally, Columbus would get a longer break; this is the team's 4th game in 11 days. The injury list is still long and the coaching staff would love to rest some of the team's starters that have played an immense amount of soccer this month. Warzycha will mix and match the players with the least heavy legs.
Tonight's lineup will likely starting players coming back from injury and those at the bottom of the depth chart. Olman Vargas, Justin Meram, Chris Birchall, and Julius James all trained with what appeared to be the first team. Many of the second string joined them, including Aubrey Perry, Eric Gehrig, Corey Veeder, and Aaron Horton.
This is a chance for some of these players to get real game action and perhaps to move up the depth chart. Most interestingly, James is likely to make his season debut tonight. He's fully recovered from his shoulder and his collapsed lung. A starter for all of the 2011 season, he will be making his first appearance tonight. He spoke of his joy and relief to be back playing "the one thing (he) loves" as he puts it.
The Dutch Lions play in the third tier USL Pro league. They have yet to record a win in 2012 and sit firmly in the bottom of the table with a 0-4-4 (4pts) record. The offense is led by 22 year old Gibson Bardsley. He has recorded two goals and an assist in 7 matches. Midfielder Joel DeLass and goalkeeper Matt Williams have played every minute of the Dutch Lions 8 games so far this season.
The team would like to perform well in the competition named for the team's founder, Lamar Hunt, but the Crew's record in recent years has been mixed. Columbus lost in the 3rd round Open Cup matchup last year to the minor league Richmond Kickers, but had a run all the way to the Championship game in 2010 before losing to the Seattle Sounders.
There is always a chance for a lower tier team to spring a surprise; the Crew have been knocked out of the Cup by Richmond and Rochester in recent years. However, the Dayton Dutch Lions don't have a single "r" in their name and more importantly they have been very poor this year. The Crew should have enough firepower to see off the threat from Dayton.
Prediction: The Crew come out 3-0 winners.