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Columbus Crew Face Big Challenge on National TV

The meeting with Kansas City may be the Crew's only nationally televised game, but the Black and Gold are just focusing on getting results and playing their game.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew are not a large market team and they have not been successful in recent years. This is an equation for little exposure, and that's exactly what has happened.

Saturday's contest against Sporting Kansas City is the only announced nationally televised game of the year for Columbus. Kansas City, the defending MLS Cup champions, have already appeared nationally once and will do so nine more times this year.

Does the Crew want to be like Sporting? They likely wouldn't mind adding another championship, but defender Josh Williams says they don't need the national recognition.

"As far as I'm concerned, we don't need to be on national TV," he said. "We're fine flying under the radar. We don't need to be out there, let teams overlook us, that's fine with me."

They may not need to be in front of the country's eyes often, but since they're there, they might as well impress.

"When we get on national TV, if we want to start building the brand, we want to put on a good show," Williams said.

Head coach Gregg Berhalter doesn't look at this as a chance to shine in front of more viewers, but an opportunity to play against one of the league's best teams.

"It's a great opportunity for our team to play the best team in MLS last year, the champions and a very good team," he said. "I think this year they're really strong again so it's a great challenge for us. We're excited to go in and hopefully play a good game."

It's a challenge for the Black and Gold, but just another one on the ongoing grind of the MLS season.

"It's no bigger than New York last week, no bigger than D.C. the week before," Berhalter said when asked about the scale of the game.

"The occasion will be bigger obviously because it's on national television and because this is the MLS champs. We know that they're a very good team. We know that they have high quality in their group so it's going to be a tough game and we're looking forward to it."

The game will also be a clash of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. The Crew sit in first place with 12 points on the campaign, but Kansas City is right behind Columbus with 11 points after last week's late 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution.

The Black and Gold are well aware that they are going to get a tough challenge from SKC on Sunday.

"This is obviously one of the favorites to win the MLS Cup," Berhalter said. "We know it's the defending champs and it's a strong group. They're well coached, they have depth in the team, so we know it's going to be a difficult game.

"They pressure the ball really well, they get after it. They're very physical and they have a very good defense. They force you into errors, they force you into turnovers. I'd say that's their main strength. They're defensively ahead of most teams in the league."

Kansas City will be without one of their better defenders because Aurelien Collin received a red card in their last match, but it will still be difficult to breakdown MLS' second best defense. It will be up to the Crew's possession attack to create chances for Jairo Arrieta or Dominic Oduro up top.

On the other end, central defenders Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez must stay tight with forward Dom Dwyer. The third-year player has scored four of SKC's nine goals on the season and can cause havoc inside the box.

Both teams play a possession-based style and the result may come down to who can retain better retain the ball.

With a national televised audience, a top-of-the-table clash, and Kansas City receiving their championship rings before the game, Crew midfielder Wil Trapp believes it could put a lot of stress on the men in blue.

"I think with all those factors in it, the pressure's really on them," he said. "We get to go out and play our style and if we're keeping the ball and the crowd starts to get angry, it's only going to be tougher for Kansas City to play. I think we can use it to our advantage."

The Black and Gold will take any advantage given to them to grab a full three points on the road. It has been four games since Columbus last won a game, but the Crew are 2-0-1 on the road this year.

They will hope they can continue this run of form against Sporting and add three more points to their impressive start to 2014.