Rivalry with Chicago Fire Lives on For Columbus Crew

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Crew face the Fire on Saturday night in a match up of longtime rivals.

It may not have a trophy attached to it like some in Major League Soccer, but the rivalry between the Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire is the real deal.

"Our fans fricken hate them," Crew midfielder Justin Meram said of the Fire. "I love our fans for the way they support us and for them to hate the Fire [makes it a rivalry]."

The hatred between the fans dates back to the early days of MLS and the two will square off again Saturday night. Chicago joined in 1998, two years after the start of the league and their fans brought plenty of numbers when they visited Columbus. There have been multiple fights, possessions stolen, dirty signs made, the list goes on.

The rivalry isn't just in the stands though; they players feel it as well.

"It's obviously a big rivalry, Crew and Fire," second-year defender Chad Barson said. "No friendly acquaintances."

Barson, a homegrown player who grew up in Columbus, has been around the rivalry as a fan and now a player. In fact, several of the players on the team have made the transition from the stands to the field, helping to fuel the battle with the Fire.

"There's always been a rivalry," Akron native Josh Williams said.

"I've been fan for a long time so I know the history between the two teams. For me, I view it as a rivalry."

Other players echoed his sentiments, expressing their distaste for the men in red on the field. Daniel Paladini, who was a member of the Fire for the last three seasons, said that the hatred goes both ways.

"It's probably one of their bigger rivals. That whole section," he said as he pointed to the south stands of Columbus Crew Stadium on Thursday, "was Chicago Fire fans when I came here with Chicago. They take busses, they come here, they talk about it all week. It's a huge rivalry. It's a good little battle."

This rivalry began on the field, as all rivalries should.

"You build rivalries in games that you've played," first-year Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said.

"You go in to a tight game with a team and it didn't go so great or you remember there was a lot of tension in that game, that becomes a rival all of a sudden. That's how rivalries develop."

With these two clubs it began in year one, with both teams winning on the road. By 2000, the Columbus and Chicago were placed in the same conference and were in constant battles for playoff positioning and to advance in the post season.

Despite the Fire dominating the series between the two clubs with a 24-13-13 record over the Crew, the Black and Gold earned perhaps the biggest win in the 2008 MLS Cup Playoffs. With a trip to MLS Cup on the line, the Crew battled back from a goal down on their way to their first MLS Cup title.

Since then the players have changed - as they do frequently in MLS - but the history of the rivalry keeps the matches fierce.

"They pretty much have a brand new team so a lot of new guys, new faces over there," Williams said of Chicago's 2014 team.

"It's not like it's the same faces every year, there's always a lot of turnover in the league, but there's tradition with us and them and we look forward to these games."

Saturday's match will not only be a chance for the Crew to get one over on their rivals, but also an opportunity to get their first win in eight games. After coming close in last week's 3-3 draw on the road against the Portland Timbers, three points, rivals or not, will be the ultimate focus in front of their home fans.

"We're not looking to make it bigger than it is," Williams said of the game.

"We need to win games, we need three points. We need to start winning on our home field and that's the approach we're taking."

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