The 2014 home opener for the Columbus Crew has a different feel than its recent predecessors. There is a sense that the new era of Crew soccer has the team trending up after a successful preseason and 3-0 win to open the year.
It is also the debut of a few exciting pieces that joined the Crew family this offseason; all of which are part of the enthusiasm surrounding the club.
New Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter is the face of the new era and alongside the new Columbus captain, defender Michael Parkhurst. Both will be introduced at Columbus Crew Stadium for the first time as a member of the organization, but the nation's first soccer specific stadium is not new to either man.
"I'm excited to have this as our home stadium, as my home stadium," Berhalter said. "I've played here a lot of times with the national team, with other teams and it is a special place. I have really good memories of playing here so it's going to be exciting to actually be the home coach of the team and I'm looking forward to it."
Both Berhalter and Parkhurst have played in Crew Stadium with the U.S. National Team as well as with MLS clubs - the L.A. Galaxy and New England Revolution respectively.
In his four years in the league, Parkhurst's Revolution team won twice , loss twice, and drew three times at Crew Stadium.
"It's always tough," he said about coming to Hunt Park. "When I was in the league, [Columbus] was always a good team, it was always a battle. The fans over there in the corner are always on top of you and I'm looking forward to having them on my side this time.
After making his return to MLS with the Crew two weeks ago, Parkhurst is excited to get out in front of his new home fans.
"I'm super excited to make my debut," he said. "You want to go out there and have a great first game and get all the fans behind you. Not only me individually but the team. We want to go out there, we want to entertain, we want to work hard, and we want to put on a show so that these people know that, ‘hey this is exciting, this is what we want to see' and those people will come back week in and week out and support us."
The home opener brings the Philadelphia Union to town. The Union began the season with a 1-1 draw at the Portland Timbers followed by a 1-0 home win last weekend over New England.
"I think it's a solid team," Berhalter said. "I think it's a good team, a well-coached team with some very good players... I respect them and they're quality.
"They like to get their backs forward, they're pretty good in offensive transition, they have two very physical center backs. In the center of the park they have guys who can play, who are technically good. So we have to be careful in terms of our game. It is an opponent we respect and an opponent that will give us problems."
The Union have new players of their own, most notably U.S. international Maurice Edu who joined Philadelphia in an offseason loan deal from Stoke City of the English Premier League. He has quickly stepped in and helped solidify their midfield.
Edu will need to be contained, but Parkhurst and the other defenders will have their hands full with the strikers. Despite only scoring twice this season, both starting forwards found the back of the net once for the Union. Conor Casey, who finished second on the team with 10 goals a season ago, is yet to play due to injury but is no longer on the injury report.
If Columbus can defeat the Union, it will mark the first time in Crew history they have started a new season 2-0, which would be a bright start to the new era.
Expected Starting XI: