For those Columbus Crew SC fans who have been around since the modest beginnings, playing at a cavernous Ohio Stadium with Brian McBride as the great hope, this article may make you sad. That's because you likely remember the rivalry that once was between D.C. United and the, then, Columbus Crew.
If you were one of the 25,266 fans in attendance at the Horseshoe for either side's first game, you probably have fond memories of the Black and Gold's 4-0 beat down of United. If you were a fan of Crew SC back in the early days, the bitter taste in your mouth from D.C. preventing Columbus from reaching MLS Cup three straight years from 1997 to 1999 remains.
Fortunately, those are now just distant memories and hopefully you've begun to move on. The rivalry with United is now that of any Eastern Conference team.
"Any time we play an Eastern Conference team there's more on the line and we understand that," Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week when asked about the old days. "We know the great tradition D.C. has had in the past and we know they've had good teams recently so it's a tough game. It's certainly a rival of ours."
A rivalry because the teams play each other three times a year, but without the bite it once had.
In the days of McBride, Roy Lassiter, Marco Etcheverry, and Brian Maisonneuve, the games between these sides meant more than three points. These teams didn't like each other and it showed on the field.
Today though, the majority of Crew SC players don't know or remember that part of the Black and Gold's history, as none of them were around when the rivalry was at its peak.
Even those who were, like Homegrown, Columbus native, Chad Barson, who was a fan of the Black and Gold before joining the team's Academy, were too young to really know the hatred that once was between the two clubs, although he did understand where it came from.
"Honestly, I kind of know more of the Chicago-Columbus rivalry," he said. "D.C. and Columbus were obviously two of the first teams in the league, so naturally they're going to play against each other more and geographically it's pretty close as well. It's one of the closest teams to Columbus. That always creates tension and competitive spirit."
The intensity was ramped up by the lack of other opposition early on in MLS. The two teams played each other 24 times over the first four season, always vying for playoff spots and always trying to keep the other down.
Over the years, other rivalries have emerged or intensified for either side. D.C. and the New York Red Bulls (one the Metrostars) have a rich history as well. Crew SC fans developed a disdain for the Chicago Fire and MLS created the Trillium Cup with Toronto FC.
Over time, some rivalries come and go as teams improve or regress. Both Columbus and the Black and Red have had their ups and downs over the years, but it's been a long time since both teams were good simultaneously. Right now, United and the Black and Gold are two of the top teams in the East once again after D.C. finished first in the conference a year ago and Crew SC made its return to the playoffs.
Could we be on the verge of more intense battles between these clubs? More battles for playoff positioning and possible Eastern Conference finals?
We'll find out when they meet again Saturday night.