A major question in U.S. Open Cup play is how much emphasis a Major League Soccer team puts on the competition outside of league play.
In recent years, the Seattle Sounders and D.C. United have put more emphasis into the Open Cup, playing stronger lineups and combining to reach the last seven finals (the two teams faced each other in the 2009 Final).
For Columbus Crew SC, it has been a long time since the team has found success in the tournament that brought the club its first trophy in team history.
It has been since 2010, when the Black & Gold reached the Final but fell 2-1 to the Seattle Sounders, since Crew SC advanced beyond the fifth round of the Open Cup.
Columbus has a chance to do that tonight when the team takes on Orlando City SC at the Citrus Bowl.
"You play the game to win and that's the most important thing, in this tournament especially," head coach Gregg Berhalter said before last round's 3-1 win over the Richmond Kickers.
"The strategy is go to the next round and we'll put a team on the field that's ready to compete."
Facing a side from the United Soccer League, the third division of profession soccer in the U.S., Berhalter elected for a lineup mixed with starters and reserve players.
Regulars such as Emanuel Pogatetz, Tony Tchani (who wore the captain's armband for the first time in his career), Hector Jimenez and Ethan Finlay all played from the start, while backups such as Brad Stuver and Adam Bedell - who has spent most of the season on loan to Crew SC affiliate the Austin Aztex - got a chance to shine.
Stuver, who also played well in the Black & Gold's friendly with Valencia CF, had a strong game against the Kickers, but it was Bedell who earned Man of the Match with his two-goal performance.
"I think he certainly did well last round, so it's something that helped him get in the picture," Berhalter said when asked about his big striker this week. "He was on the bench in Salt Lake and it helps him make progress in the group. So I think it was valuable."
Having just played on Saturday night in Salt Lake City and with a game against the New York Red Bulls looming this coming weekend, the head coach may elect to change his team a bit, but is confident in whoever is on the pitch.
"We're going to put a group on the field that can win a game," Berhalter explained. "We believe in all these guys; every guy on the roster, we believe in. It's whoever's on the field, we expect to put a good performance in and compete."
Orlando's last match was June 24, giving them six days off ahead of this contest. Although City plays again Saturday, Columbus expects a first-choice lineup on Tuesday.
"I expect a full group out of them," Berhalter said. "I think this is a good opportunity for them and I think it's going to be a good game. They play again on the weekend so they'll have some time to rest, get that extra day with it being on Tuesday. The game's scheduled like that, I assume on purpose, to be able to give your full group a run."
If both teams play their typical starting 11, and can keep all of those players on the field for a full 90 minutes, it will be the first time this season despite two previous meetings.
In the first ever meeting between the two clubs, City right back Rafael Ramos was issued a straight red card for a dangerous tackle in the 34th minute. The Black & Gold, who were already up 1-0 at the time, went on to win the match 3-0. The second meeting in Orlando, OCSC played the majority of the game up a man after Michael Parkhurst was sent off for a handball on the goal line, but could only manage a 2-2 draw.
"I think a little bit, but the game was affected by the early red card," Berhalter said of the last match. "We were playing defense for however many minutes, 75, so not much."
Unlike that match, there will be a winner in this one. Crew SC will hope to maintain an unbeaten record over Orlando and finally advance beyond the fifth round.
The anchor of the Crew SC midfield, Wil Trapp, has been out with concussion issues since he left the match with the Vancouver Whitecaps at halftime on April 8. Since that time, Mohammed Saeid and Kevan George have replaced him, but Columbus fans could "potentially" have their Homegrown product back on the field this week.
"Fitness, game rhythm," Berhalter said of what Trapp is working on this week. "We'll be having conversations with him throughout the week, but he's been making a ton of progress and we feel that he's very close to being ready if not ready."
The head coach said there are no more concussion-related tests the midfielder must pass in order to get back on the field. Trapp has been in training the last few weeks, but isn't always a part of the full session. Recently, he's been seen leaving the practice field with much more of a sweat and Berhalter said two weeks ago that they expect him back in a couple of weeks.
With the Open Cup game and a July 4 date with the Red Bulls on Saturday, combined with George's call-up for the Gold Cup, Trapp may be called upon in some capacity to make his return.