It was 2010 the last time Columbus Crew SC advanced beyond the Round of 16 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. That season, the Black & Gold reached the final of the country’s longest-running professional soccer tournament before losing to the Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field.
Since that match, Columbus has made it to the Round of 16 four out of the last five years, but bowed out of the Open Cup each time.
The Chicago Fire are not new opponents for Crew SC in this competition. Columbus and Chicago have met five previous times in the Open Cup, with the Fire winning all five contests. The Black & Gold were eliminated by the Men in Red in 2013 and 2014, both times in the Round of 16, and face that side once again on Tuesday.
Crew SC go into this game looking to exercise some demons.
"You want to get over this hump," winger Ethan Finlay said of Tuesday’s matchup. "It feels like it’s been tough the last couple years. It’s been frustrating."
The Open Cup provided the Black & Gold with the club’s first championship in 2002. On two other occasions, including the 2010 loss to the Sounders, Columbus has made it to the Final. Despite six seasons passing since the last championship game appearance, winning a title is always the goal in the Open Cup.
"What I’d say is that any time you’re in a competition, you want to win it," head coach Gregg Berhalter said on Monday. "So we want to put a team on the field tomorrow that’s going to try to win a game and I think that’s the objective. It’s a good contest against Chicago, another MLS team, and we’re looking forward to it."
Finlay, who came close to winning his first professional trophy last year when the Black & Gold lost to the Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup Final, agrees with Berhalter that the chance to win something is motivation for this match.
"I think the last couple of years we haven’t been able to do so as much or as well [in the Open Cup] as I think the staff or the players would like to," he said. "So it’s another great opportunity for us to show our depth. To show that this does mean something to us. I know it does mean something to our fans. Obviously we’ve won this tournament before and I’d love to raise that trophy again sometime later this year."
Fellow winger Justin Meram is the longest-tenured Crew SC player, but Open Cup advancement has alluded him. Meram was drafted out of Michigan in 2011, a year after Columbus took on Seattle in the Final, and after scoring in the last round against he Tampa Bay Rowdies, he is motivated to help the Black & Gold keep their tournament hopes alive.
"My time here, I’ve never surpassed the Round of 16 so I think we all know what’s at stake and our goal is Tuesday," he said. "We’re not looking ahead for the regular season match. We worked hard today in training and we’ll be focused.
"We’re going in there to get a win. The last couple years, I think we get knocked out in this round so we’re focused and we’re ready and we’re going to give it all we got to get a result."
The chance to win a trophy is motivation enough, but playing the Fire is another factor for Crew SC going into Tuesday’s contest. Columbus and Chicago have been rivals since the Men in Red joined Major League Soccer in 1998 and knocking them out of the tournament for the first time is something Meram is looking forward to.
"I think any time you face them it’s going to be a battle," Meram said. "Some of their guys used to play here so it’s going to be a little bit extra incentive to go out there on their home field, in their stadium, and quiet their crowd and get a victory. I think we’ll be alright tomorrow."
For Crew SC, Tuesday’s match could be a variety of firsts. The first win over the Fire in the Open Cup and the first time into the quarterfinals since 2010. It could also be the first road victory of 2016 for the Black & Gold, something that could be a springboard for Sunday’s game at Sporting Kansas City and possibly the beginning of a turnaround on what otherwise has a been a disappointing season.
Columbus Crew SC's Open Cup Finishes
|1998||Final||2-1 OT loss at Chicago Fire|
|1999||Semifinal||3-2 loss vs. Rochester Rhinos|
|2000||Quarterfinals||7-5 PK loss vs. New York Metrostars|
|2001||Quarterfinals||2-1 loss at New England Revolution|
|2002||Champions||1-0 win vs. LA Galaxy|
|2003||Round of 16||4-3 loss vs. New York Metrostars|
|2004||Round of 16||2-1 OT loss vs. Chicago Fire|
|2005||Round of 16||3-1 OT loss vs. FC Dallas|
|2006||Round of 16||2-1 OT loss at D.C. United|
|2007||Qualifying||1-0 loss vs. LA Galaxy|
|2008||Qualifying||3-2 OT loss at Chicago Fire|
|2009||Round of 16||5-3 PK loss at Rochester Rhinos|
|2010||Final||2-1 loss at Seattle Sounders|
|2011||Round of 16||2-1 loss vs. Richmond Kickers|
|2012||Round of 32||2-1 loss vs. Dayton Dutch Lions|
|2013||Round of 16||2-1 loss at Chicago Fire|
|2014||Round of 16||4-2 OT loss at Chicago Fire|
|2015||Round of 16||2-0 loss at Orlando City SC|
|2016||Round of 16||In progress|