The Columbus Crew and D.C. United face off in the third and final meeting between the two teams this season. The first game opened the campaign for both, with the Crew winning 3-0 at R.F.K. Stadium. Just over a month later, the game shifted to Columbus, where a late equalizer from Hector Jimenez earned the Black and Gold a 1-1 draw.
This game will be the final MLS game for both teams before the three week World Cup break, making it important to go out on a good note.
"It's huge," midfielder Ben Speas said. "This is our last game for two weeks then and we want and need the three points."
The Crew also want to maintain positivity. After such a successful start to the season - the best start in team history - Columbus has only won one of their last 11 games.
According to goalkeeper Steve Clark, this team is building and evolving and getting the full three points would be a big step in the right direction.
"I think it's an important game for us, not only with points but [wanting to go into the break feeling good about our performance,]" he said after Saturday's 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake.
"I do really still feel like building as a team, the first part here, it's very important that we're doing that. We're going through a little bit of struggles.
"The meat of the season is still coming in the summer and the end of the season where you're going to pick up a lot of points. We're 13 games in. I still like where we are as a team and where we're headed."
United have put together an impressive run since their last meeting with the Crew. The Black and Red have gone 4-2-1 in that span and find themselves in third place in the Eastern Conference. D.C. are second best in the East with 1.62 points per game, having only played 13 matches.
United are led by Fabian Espindola, the striker who came over from the New York Red Bulls in the offseason. He leads the team with seven goals and five assists, followed by in-season acquisition Chris Rolfe.
Those two, in tandem with Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen in the midfield have turned one of 2013's worst team's into a legitimate playoff contender this season.
Kitchen will miss the match against Columbus due to yellow card accumulation, but he will not be the only player for either side to likely miss out. Key pieces for the Black and Gold, forward Federico Higuain and midfielder Wil Trapp are both listed as questionable for the match. Trapp missed each of the last two games with a "knee knock" and Higuain was a first half substitute against Salt Lake due to a hamstring injury.
This game will not be played at the usual home of D.C., but instead in Maryland at FedExField as part of the Road to Brazil series. It will be the second of a double header between Spain and El Savador and a large crowd is to be expected.
"We're excited," Crew head cocah Gregg Berhalter said of the game.
"You get to play in one of these Road to Brazil matches, high profile match, and it's exciting. We're lucky to be able to take part in that and FedExField is a nice stadium. Hopefully a big crowd. I think it will be fun."
In their last two road matches the Crew has played in front of large road crowds, they have given up late goals to drop points. Berhalter has discussed embracing the away team mentality and rising to the challenge and the large expected crowd in the 85,000 seat stadium will give them another chance to do this.
The x-factor of this game could be forward Eddie Johnson. The player expected to be preparing for the World Cup with the U.S. national team, but was not even named to the initial 30-man roster.
Johnson has only scored one goal this season after getting a Designated Player contract from United this offseason, signing from the Seattle Sounders where he scored 23 goals over the last two seasons.
It must be assumed that Johnson will regain his scoring touch at some point, and the Crew will hope it is not this week.
As the coaches and players have stated, this is a big game for the Crew. After getting the win over the Chicago Fire two weeks ago, the team has not kept the momentum, but a win over an Eastern Conference rival before the break would give them a boost heading into the summer fixtures.
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