The Trillium Cup between the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC was a one-sided rivalry heading into the 2014 season. The Crew held a 10-2-7 record over their rivals and had only lost the Trillium Cup once. This year, Toronto won the first two meetings, including one in Columbus, and has clinched the Cup for the second time.
"Losing twice to them is not acceptable," Crew midfielder Wil Trapp said when asked about this week's game with the Reds. "We're going to be fired up for it."
With Toronto securing the Trillium Cup with their 3-2 come from behind win on May 31, the focus of the game shifts to what really matters: getting three points in a tight Eastern Conference.
"It's a must win for us," Trapp said.
"They've been doing pretty well. They've still got a couple of games in hand over us so it's a massive game in terms of where we're at in the standings and we can make up some points here."
The Black and Gold sit in fifth place in the East with 27 points while Toronto is third, two points clear of their Saturday opponent. This is deceiving, as TFC has registered 1.45 points per game as opposed to the Crew's 1.23 due to playing two fewer games on the year.
The Crew caught a break in the first meeting between the teams as Jermain Defoe sat out due to injury. It didn't matter thanks to Michael Bradley, who put on a dazzling display in Crew Stadium to earn the 2-0 win. The English striker, who leads the team with 11 goals, likely won't make his Columbus debut this weekend, as he missed last week's contest and the All-Star game with a possible sports hernia.
This does not mean Toronto are without other weapons.
"They have some of the top players in the league," Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week.
"Thankfully Jeramin Defoe's not going to be playing but they have other guys. When you look at Luke Moore and what Gilberto's doing now, they're in form. Michael Bradley in the middle is a top player in the league. We know it's a good team."
Moore seems to have finally found a home in MLS after being traded from Chivas USA to the Colorado Rapids in May and subsequently to TFC for Gale Agbossoumonde. Since then, the striker has scored four goals and registered one assist in 13 appearances for the Reds.
Gilberto had a slow start to the season but has started to repay some of his Designated Player money of late with three goals and two assists.
Another dangerous weapon for Toronto is a familiar face to the Crew. The Black and Gold traded midfielder/forward Dominic Oduro to the Reds in exchange for Alvaro Rey in early June and he has contributed two goals and a team leading four assists since the move. Berhalter believes the success has to do with a system that works for the Ghanaian.
"Dom's done great and the thing about it is, he's in a system that's comfortable for him," he said. "You see that he can perform when he's in a system that's comfortable."
Now that Oduro is comfortable, he becomes the Crew's problem to stop. Fortunately, they are have some experience from the training ground.
"We know his speed, we know his pace, we know he's going to be motivated," Berhalter continued on Oduro.
"Waylon's done a good job in the past against him so we're confident he can continue to do that."
It will be nice to see a friendly face return for the Black and Gold, but for midfielder Wil Trapp and his teammates, it's just about getting the job done.
"Dom coming back is just another part of the puzzle," he said. "We're not really reading too much into that.
"Luckily we've played against and played with him in training the last year and half. We kind of know a little bit of his tendencies, but he's always going to be a threat with his speed."
Toronto enter the game after a 2-0 win over rival Montreal Impact last week, while the Black and Gold come in on a three game unbeaten streak.
For the Crew, this is a chance to continue their rise up the Eastern Conference. For the Reds, it is an opportunity to sweep Columbus for the first time in team history and widen the gap between the two teams.