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Columbus Crew Face Fierce Rival the Chicago Fire

The Crew and the Fire both have plenty on the line and that will add an edge to tonight's game.

USA TODAY Sports

In the middle of August, I found myself at Columbus Crew Stadium pulling for a Crew win over Toronto, but missing the venom I associate with a rivalry game.

Since Toronto F.C.'s entrance to MLS in 2007, their games with Columbus have been billed as a rivalry. Due to the close proximity of the teams, the league believed that this was a natural rival. They assigned a trophy to it and hoped the rivalry would blossom.

Unfortunately it has not.

Some of the blame can be attributed to poor form by Toronto in not making this more of an intense battle on the field. You have to win to be a rival and it took five years for the Reds to beat the Crew.

In the beginning, the fans did make things interesting, with Toronto supporters invading Crew Stadium's south end, yet in the most recent contest there may not have been a visiting fan in the stadium.

On Saturday the Crew face the Chicago Fire, a team they have no trophy on the line with, yet this is a game that fans of both teams look forward to.

The Fire came into MLS in 1998 and were an MLS champion in year one.

They brought what Toronto could not, a competitive game and a natural geographical opponent.

They were also a team that was easily hated by opponents. They played physical, even a little dirty, and featured players that you could only support if they were on your team.

As a fan of all sports, I have witnessed many rivalries. I grew up supporting Ohio State and am alumnus of the university. The OSU-Michigan rivalry will always be special, but for most of my life one team has dominated for a period of time.

Chicago has had the better of the series between the Crew and the Fire, yet there have been so many memorable matches between the two that make this series what it is.

It would not have been a story book ending in 2008 had Columbus not faced Chicago in the Eastern Conference Final. These teams battled all year for supremacy in the conference, tying twice, but it meant the return of Brian McBride. McBride could never get to the top in his time with the Crew and now he played the biggest game of his MLS career in red.

Columbus concluded 2003 with a memorable 6-2 win over the Fire at home, where they found themselves down 2-0 at halftime. It put a positive spin on a dreadful season, where the team finished in last place, by beating the rival and first-place team.

The clashes on the pitch between these two teams have been documented. The fans also contribute significantly to the rivalry.

Chicago fans were the first to claim the south end of Crew Stadium as their home away from home. Columbus fans turned the Fire's signature cheer into a mockery.

There have been flags stolen and items burned. There have been frayed nerves and tempers flaring between fans in Chicago and Columbus. Section 8 and the Nordecke represent Midwest supporters groups and despise the other's success.

What makes this a true rivalry is the mutual respect between the two teams and their fan bases.

Both teams have been successful throughout their existence, each winning one MLS Cup. Chicago and Columbus sit second and fourth respectively in games played in the playoffs and fourth and eighth in percentage of years making the playoffs (including current and defunct MLS teams).

Although neither fan base would like to admit it, they have respect for what the other team brings to the table. If it weren't for the opposition, there would be no rivalry and that is what makes games fun for the fans.

The Fire-Crew rivalry is one that spawned naturally by two teams that downright disliked each other. It was created through years of tightly contested games, physical affairs, and success on both sides.

Saturday the rivalry continues and again there is a lot on the line. The Fire occupy the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but cannot afford a slip up, as they are tied on points with the Philadelphia Union.

Columbus sits four points back of the playoffs and must win against their rival, something they haven't done in the last four meetings in all competition. A loss would be devastating, but a win would be extra sweet as it would make it harder for the Fire to make the playoffs.

Either way, both teams will add another chapter in what is one of the most exciting and historic rivalries in MLS history.