It's that time of year again. Last week Major League Soccer kicked off its 20th season and Columbus Crew SC has its 2015 home opener this Saturday. But this isn't any ordinary home opener.
"We're so excited," vice-captain Wil Trapp said when asked about this weekend's match. "Any time you get to go in front of your fans with this amount of anticipation and excitement for this season, it's going to be awesome."
Not only are the fans excited for a new season of Crew SC soccer, but for everything that has changed in the offseason.
Although the new name and logo were unveiled towards the end of last season, 2015 marks end of the construction workers and the beginning of Crew SC. The team also will debut their new home jerseys, after the black, away kits appeared for the first time in last week's game with the Houston Dynamo.
Also, for the first time since moving to their own stadium, the Black and Gold will not play their first home game in Columbus Crew Stadium, but rather the newly named MAPFRE Stadium, which will feature new food and beer selections that cater to local businesses.
"The excitement surrounding the team this year and the club as a whole and the new stadium naming rights, the new jerseys, the new crest, everything is culminating in this game," Trapp said excitedly. "I think it's going to be a great atmosphere against a good opponent who people want to come see as well. We just can't wait to get on the field."
The opponent is none other than Trillium Cup rivals Toronto FC. After winning the two-team competition five of the first six seasons, Columbus had the trophy ripped away a year ago.
"They beat us three times last year and we don't forget that. We've got some payback to do this year and hopefully we can start that off on the right foot this weekend," captain and central defender Michael Parkhurst said on Thursday at Crew SC's Media Day.
After pretty much being the Black and Gold's whipping boy team for the first several years of its existence, Toronto opened the checkbook a year ago and signed U.S National Team midfielder Michael Bradley and England forward Jermain Defoe. While Defoe has left the club, the Reds added U.S. forward Jozy Altidore and former Juventus midfielder Sebastian Giovinco in the offseason.
Since their inception in 2007, TFC have failed to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs, but many believe these additions will be enough to get them there for the first time in 2015.
"They have an excellent team," Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said of Toronto. "When you look at some of their guys, Jozy, obviously the Player of the Week in his first week back in the league and scoring two goals and looking dominate. Giovinco as well, looks like a really good playmaker. He set a goal up, could have had one himself also. So they have a lot of quality and it's going to be a difficult game for us."
As they did a year ago when the team finished third in the Eastern Conference, the focus this week for the Crew SC players and the staff is on themselves. Toronto has stars and they have to be respected, but the Columbus coach believes his team can compete with anyone when the players play their game.
"We want to focus on our side of the game and executing what we know we can do," Berhalter explained. "We've proven it against virtually every team in the league that if we play our game, we can give opponents problems. So we're going to focus on our things that we normally do and we'll see how we can compete."
That message is echoed by the players as well.
"For us, the biggest thing is playing our game and not getting sucked into a back-and-forth track meet," Trapp said.
"[They have] lots of quality, but at the same time, we have plenty of quality on our side to exploit them and be dangerous."
For the Columbus players, it is about getting last week out of their minds and entertaining the fans in the home opener. With all the anticipation of the season and the expectations on this team, Crew SC doesn't want to start out losing their first two games.
"For sure coming off a loss, you never want to lose back-to-back games. So the pressure's there but we understand it's extremely early in the season," Parkhurst said.
There is plenty of time for Crew SC to make up points now, but losing to the team's rival would not be a great start at home.
The match kicks off Saturday night at 7:30 pm ET. Check back with Massive Report for all your coverage in the build up to the contest.