On Wednesday night, Columbus Crew SC take a break from Major League Soccer play and enter the U.S. Open Cup - the country's oldest soccer tournament - in a fourth round matchup with the Richmond Kickers.
The Black & Gold travel to Richmond City Stadium to take on the United Soccer League side Wednesday night. Although the Kickers play in a lower division than Columbus, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter expects a good game from what he's learned about Richmond.
"We reached out some coaches in that league and talked to them about Richmond," he said on Monday. "We've been watching Richmond and they're a good team. They've got some decent attacking players and it's going to be a tough game."
For many MLS teams, the fourth round of the Open Cup is a chance to give some of the guys further down the roster some minutes. Typically this means an opportunity for younger players, yet it can also result in an early exit in the one-loss-and-done tournament.
"You play the game to win and that's the most important thing, in this tournament especially," Berhalter explained of the Open Cup. "If you don't win, you're done - unless you tie and go to penalty kicks. You want to be able to compete and you want to be able to play against a team that's going to be extremely motivated to play against you."
The Kickers will be motivated to take down a Columbus team that has only two Open Cup wins since it lost in the final to the Seattle Sounders in 2010.
The focus on Wednesday night will be to survive and advance.
"The strategy is go to the next round and we'll put a team on the field that's ready to compete," Berhalter said. "In terms of the exact lineup, we're still working on that. We'll see who's healthy, see who's ready to go, but we expect to put a good team on the field.
"Again, I think we're going to assess the group, see where they're at physically and make the right decision. The decision that's going to help the team win."
With no league game for Crew SC for a week, Berhalter said the staff would be less cautious with who plays in this game, meaning fans may see more starters than in past early-round games.
No matter the lineup, the Black & Gold will have to guard against complacency against a perceived weaker opposition. In these one-and-done style tournaments, anything can happen, which is what makes them exciting.
"I think the Open Cup's a great tournament. When you give any team a chance to compete against pro teams and anyone can win, it makes for great story lines," Berhalter said. "In Europe, you see teams in the third division going to the final, or second division, and I think that's exciting. Hopefully some of these games will produce some good results and shock results and make it exciting."
While the head coach may enjoy upsets around the tournament, he will not want his side going home early. That will require focus and determination that isn't always there in these contests and that is what Berhalter and his staff will look for as they prepare for this match.
"I think it's not about the lineup, it's about the mindset of the guys on the field," he explained. "That they're embracing the challenge and we know it's going to be a tough game and to enjoy it."