I had been initially dismissive of the idea that the Crew were hosting Wigan next month. I was uncharitable to a club without the long and successful history of their North-Western Neighbors such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, or Manchester City, but I missed the obvious. The Crew and Wigan share a lot in common.
The Region - Both Wigan and Columbus lie in the industrial heartland of their respective countries. The long dormant factories litter the American rust best of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. In England, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, and Lancashire have seen the decline of traditional occupations such as shipping, mining, and factory work disappear.
The Team -Both sides are short on big names. The Crew have Federico Higuain, the older brother of Gonzalo, as the creator, but rely on a workman like group to get results. Likewise, Wigan doesn't rely on stars and will likely lose some of the talent they have after this year's relegation. Shaun Maloney may be the biggest name after two stints at Celtic, but Ivorian Arouna Koné is the offensive focal point.
The Manager - Roberto Martinez cuts a heroic figure for Wigan as he helmed the team through several close calls with relegation. His international profile was high enough that he works for ESPN as a studio analyst and left Wigan after they were relegated this year. Former Burnley and Bolton head man Owen Coyle replaces him. His style could be identified as dour.
The Crew likewise can look back at the tenure of Sigi Schmid who rebuilt the team into a league champion. His replacement, Robert Warzycha, retooled an aging team, but much of the flair of Schmid's teams is gone. Warzycha's teams are defense first and often grind out results.
The Stadium - Both stadiums opened in 1999 and seat up to 25,000 for soccer events while sharing space for other events. Columbus Crew Stadium hosts more than Crew games as concerts and football games bring in revenue. The DW Stadium is home to Wigan Athletic, but also the Wigan Warriors rugby club.
The Ownership - Two men stand out here. Lamar Hunt brought soccer to Columbus when no one else would. There were over 10,000 season ticket deposits in 1994 and Mr. Hunt took the leap of faith that Ohio was soccer country. Lamar Hunt and now his children have been steadfast in their support of the team, if a bit thrifty at times.
Dave Whelan likewise bought Wigan when they were losing traction in the third division back in 1995. An influx of funds reversed their fortunes and fans started to return to the team. Wigan climbed up the league ladder and made it to the Premier League for the first time in 2005.
"The Unfashionable Derby" - Earlier I referred to a quip made at the expense of Columbus. It was actually a foreign reporter who was travelling from Washington D.C. to Columbus calling it “an all together less fashionable part of the United States”. Much like Wigan doesn't have the glamour of London. Commenter Lockstep took the quote to it's logical conclusion, the Crew and Wigan are set to play in "The Unfashionable Derby". It may not look good on a billboard promoting the game, but to diehard fans, the phrase fits.