The Columbus Crew takes on the New York Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon. It will be the 86th match between the two teams across all competitions. The Crew has won 37 of those matchups and lost 34 when considering aggregate playoff series.
Among those 85 past games, one was an MLS Cup Final, four were playoff games and two were U.S. Open Cup contests (a quarterfinal and semifinal). The Black & Gold won the latter in 1998. Considering these two clubs have contended for playoff spots for 25 years, many of the regular season matchups can take on a postseason-like atmosphere.
Why is it then, the Red Bulls are rarely, if ever, discussed as a rival for the Crew? The short answer is geography. The marketing departments for both franchises and MLS focus more attention on travel times than playoff implications when it comes to pitching a rivalry matchup.
But is that fair? Many older Columbus fans consider D.C. United a rival after constantly falling to United in the early years of the MLS Cup playoffs. The Black & Gold have fared better against New York but they don’t seem to get the same reaction from the die-hards.
In other sports, bad blood from years of playoff games is the driving force for many rivalries regardless of geography. That was often the case for the Crew in the seasons prior to FC Cincinnati entering MLS. Teams that contended at the same time as Columbus often made for compelling games and a rivalry feel.
When looking at the history between the Crew and the Red Bull, it’s surprising the league offices in New York haven’t think-tanked their way into marketing this to the masses. Perhaps a trophy with a shared city artifact of some sort.
Players and coaches can certainly play a role in cultivating a rivalry. The Black & Gold’s Caleb Porter likes to mix it up with the opposition at times, as fans witnessed at Cincinnati last season. When asked about New York though, he didn’t quite light a fire under the idea.
“I think we have a rivalry fighting for the same thing we are fighting for, and I put New York in that,” Porter said simply.
The Crew head coach did say he thinks Sunday would be a battle and pointed out that New York does employ a bit of a different strategy and philosophy towards soccer. That contrasting style usually creates an intense game.
It should also be noted, and Porter mentioned this as well, Columbus missed the playoffs last year by one point, the team one point in front of the Black & Gold, the Red Bulls. The two teams squared off late in the season at Lower.com Field. New York came back from a goal down on the road to bury the Black & Gold and their playoff aspirations.
Sunday afternoon is primed to be another interesting chapter in this classic fixture. If some Crew fans are hesitant to include the Red Bulls in their personal list of rivals, it’s understandable. This particular writer doesn’t hesitate to mention them anytime the question of who is Columbus’ rivals comes up. Memories of the 2018 playoffs haven’t quite left the memory bank.
Even the Crew’s victories linger on. In the 2015 Eastern Cup Final, the Crew took a 2-0 lead to New Jersey. Everyone remembers Justin Meram’s goal nine seconds into the first leg, but not many think about how close the second leg was. A few inches and the game goes to extra time.
Both organizations have quite a history. In the ever-expanding world of modern MLS, two clubs that date back to 1996 should be savored. Sunday will be worth that much.