If you had asked most of the so called experts in the preseason where the New York Red Bulls would be in relation to the Columbus Crew come the middle of July, likely not one of them would have said the two would be equal in record, points, and goal differential.
Despite the rather different roster construction, that is where the teams stand as they prepare to meet for the second time this season. The teams have each played 17 games, are tied for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race with 20 points, have a 4-5-8 record, and a goal differential of zero.
Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter hopes his team approaches this game just like any other.
"We want to get up for every opponent," Berhalter responded to TheCrew.com when asked if this game was a big deal. "Every game is important."
Berhalter did admit there is more weight on conference clashes because of the potential mobility up or down the standings.
"These Eastern Conference games, we are putting a little bit of emphasis on, ‘okay, now it's a mover game,'" Berhalter said. "These are six point games basically. That is something we're aware of and as we move into the latter part of the season, most of our fixtures are against Eastern Conference teams. It's a lot of movement. You can jump really quickly."
Whether admitted or not, there is a sense of desire for a small market team to go to the Big Apple and get a win over one of the league's marquee teams. The world renown talent on the Red Bulls makes them a heavy favorite, yet they sit on equal footing with Black and Gold.
"I thought it was a good team," Berhalter said of New York this week. "Obviously the individual quality of [Bradley Wright-Phillips,] [Thierry Henry,] [Tim Cahill;] not just them but they've got some good guys. It's a good team. I think that they're underperforming at the moment and we're wary of them."
The last time these two sides met, it was the Crew who were the top dogs. Columbus sat atop the Eastern Conference, while the Red Bulls were still attempting to get the season on track. In the end, the two battled to a 1-1 draw.
In that game, New York were without the services of Cahill, who is expected to be in the lineup Saturday after making his return from his two-goal World Cup performance - including the likely goal of the tournament.
"He's a phenomenal goal scorer and he has a phenomenal attitude to win and push his team," Berhalter said of the Aussie.
"The first and foremost, in the box we're going to have to be aware of him. He's proven to have that quality inside that box that he can score a goal. That's something we've got to keep an eye on."
Columbus will also have the return of two of their World Cup players from Costa Rica, as Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis will meet their Black and Gold teammates in New York on Friday after being welcomed back to their native country as heroes.
"They're going to meet us Friday directly in New York," Berhalter said this week.
"The reasoning is, they have festivities planned in Costa Rica. The President is welcoming them back today or tomorrow and we thought it was only right that they participate in that. We really need them but we also see the big picture, letting them enjoy that experience."
Berhalter said that he was not sure in what capacity the two players will be available for Saturday's game, but each for different reasons. Gonzalez played a major part in Costa Rica's run to the World Cup quarterfinals, so he may require a bit of rest. Francis did not play for Los Ticos, so his fitness may come into question. Berhalter also pointed to the busy run the Black and Gold have ahead of them, with five games - including the friendly with Crystal Palace - in two weeks.
The game with the Red Bulls should offer the Crew a second straight chance to play their game after an open contest with the Colorado Rapids last week, without featuring a team bunkering behind the ball. New York, with their many talented pieces, usually likes to keep the ball on the ground and play quality soccer, which is exactly what Columbus likes to do.
In a game that can help distance two teams searching for a playoff spot, expect a highly contested affair. The Red Bulls may have the big names and the money, but they are right there with the Crew in MLS play.