The rivalry between the Chicago Fire and the Columbus Crew may not be the most publicized in MLS, but it certainly is one of deepest in terms of tradition. On Saturday, the rivalry will be renewed for the third time this season.
"It's always a battle when we play Chicago," Crew defender Chad Barson said this week.
"They've been around since '97, us since the beginning of the league so it's obviously a team that the Crew has a history with. They've played numerous times so it's always a difficult game when we play Chicago, whether it's home or away."
Toyota Park will be the host for this game marking the second time this year the Black and Gold have visited the Bridgeview, Illinois stadium. The last match in Chicago, a 4-2 U.S. Open Cup win in overtime for the Fire, still haunts Chicago native Eric Gehrig.
"We should have won that one," the Crew defender said shaking his head.
Columbus did win the first league meeting this season between the teams 2-0, with goals from Ethan Finlay and Jairo Arrieta to end an eight game winless streak for the Black and Gold.
Since that loss, the Fire have won just one game in nine outings and currently sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They currently sit five points behind the Crew in the standings, making this a potential swing game.
"These are all Eastern Conference games," Gehrig said when asked about battling the teams around them in the standings.
"All these games are turning into six point swings. They're very, very important games and you've got to take it one game at a time. It's going to be for sure like a playoff game."
Despite their recent struggles, Chicago still possesses dangerous weapons, such as last year's MVP Mike Magee.
"I think [Magee] would be the first to tell you he wishes he's having a better season right now, but he's still obviously got it. We've seen what he can do; he's a dangerous player."
After a 21 goal, four assist season a year, Magee has just five goals and four assists in 2014. In his high scoring absence, other players have emerged for the Fire such as likely Rookie of the Year Harry Shipp and journeyman Quincy Amarikwa.
Shipp leads the team with six goals and five assists on the year, while Amarikwa also has six goals along with three assists. Jeff Larentowicz has contributed offensively as well with four goals and two assists.
The Fire have scored two more goals than the Crew this year in one less game, but have allowed 33 on the season, the fourth worst defensive unit in MLS. Columbus have been able to exploit this weakness in both games.
"They were very exposed defensively [in the first meeting]," forward Adam Bedell said.
"There were big gaps that we could play behind and in front. We need to exploit that again. The Open Cup game was crazy, it was all over the place. As long as we stay compact defensively, we should be fine and then do the things we like offensively, we'll be okay."
Head coach Gregg Berhalter believes the men in red improved between their first game and the Open Cup match, despite conceding two goals in both contests.
"They made some good adjustments in the Open Cup game and it's going to be a tough game," he said this week.
"It's going to be a question of can we keep the ball and wait for that space. It's not always going to be there, but when it is, can we look to make some moves to get some chances? I think it's going to be a tough game."
Berhalter's side has won two consecutive games for the first time since March and would love to extend that streak in a place that has been tough to find victories over the years.
"I know nothing about it," the first-year head coach responded when asked about the struggles in the Windy City.
"What I think is that honestly there's some matchups that for some reason or another over the years, they get the best of you and then there's others where you get the best of them. It's strange like that. I'm fortunate enough to know nothing about that. As far as I'm concerned, we're going in to try and win a soccer game and hopefully do so."
The players will hope their manager's naivety towards the difficult stretch in Toyota Park will help them end a run of no wins in 11 games dating back to 2006. A win would also mean another three points as the Black and Gold look to climb back up the standings in a tight playoff race.