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The Crew faces Gyasi Zardes for the first time since the early-season trade

There will be a number of familiar faces on the other side of the field for the Black & Gold on Saturday. Most notably, the striker who began this season in Columbus

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday the Columbus Crew travel to just outside of Denver to take on the Colorado Rapids. The Black & Gold hope to build on the momentum from the team’s 3-2 victory against New York City FC and have a few familiar faces in their way when they travel out West.

Former Crew defender and Supporters’ Shield winner Robin Fraser is the Rapids’ head coach. The backline for Colorado comprises two former Crew players in center backs Lalas Abubakar and Abubakar Keita, although the latter is out this season with an ACL tear. But there’s one previous Columbus player that will attract the most attention this week: United States National Team veteran Gyasi Zardes.

Zardes played four full seasons with the Crew before being dealt to the Rapids earlier this year. The forward scored a total of 61 goals in 122 appearances for the Black & Gold, which is good enough for third of all-time in club history. He was an instrumental piece of the 2020 MLS Cup championship squad and played in both the 2019 and 2022 CONCACAF Gold Cups for the U.S. during his time in Columbus.

But now Zardes is on the other touchline.

“There’s always players that you’re going to come across that wore the badge, and those players mean a lot to our club,” head coach Caleb Porter said this week. “Obviously, we wish Gyasi all the best like we do any player that has worn the uniform. Then obviously the whistle blows and you know we have to win the game we have to play well and obviously he’s on the other side so we don’t want him to do too well.”

Zardes’ 2022 campaign was on the not doing too well end of the spectrum. Young forward Miguel Berry started the first four games of the season out of the gate, displacing a spot Zardes held since he came to the Crew in a trade with the LA Galaxy prior to the 2018 season, but neither striker asserted themselves as an outright starter.

Eventually, the team began to suffer. The low point occurred during a disastrous trip to Detroit on April 19 in the U.S. Open Cup. Zardes scored an early penalty kick, but the Black & Gold lost 2-1 to USL squad and was ousted from the tournament by Detroit City FC in their first match.

Just three days after the loss, rumors that the Columbus front office was shopping Zardes and willing to consider offers came to fruition. On April 22, Colorado made an enticing enough deal for the Crew to agree to and make the move. For $300,000 in General Allocation Money (which could rise as high as $1.4 million), the Black & Gold parted ways with the Designated Player.

The transfer agreement between the clubs is packed with performance-based incentives to benefit the Columbus. While the specific terms of the deal were not disclosed, if Zardes performs well and re-signs with the Rapids, the Crew will benefit financially.

After a slow start to his Colorado career, Zardes and the rest of the Rapids have found their form. The forward has scored six goals since joining Colorado, three of which came via a hat trick against Minnesota United last Saturday. The Rapids have won three of the team’s last four matches.

If the dependable MLS veteran can continue to rack up goals, the incentives may very well be reached. He has all the motivation in the world to do it.

Two months after trading Zardes, the Black & Gold acquired a new Designated Player in record-singing striker Cucho Hernández. He has served the replacement for Zardes and has brought the team’s offense to life.

On Saturday, the two will be on the field against each other, as will a number of players Zardes began this season playing alongside. Porter downplayed any competitive advantage Columbus players might have in facing their old teammate.

“We usually know every attacker we play against,” said Porter. “We’ve watched them, we've analyzed them, we’ve seen their movements, so there honestly won’t be any different discussions. There will be nothing different honestly”

Regardless, the Crew will have to be prepared. Former Black & Gold forwards have performed well against Columbus in the past. Fans have to look no further than Kei Kamara’s goal scored last week in CF Montreal’s 2-1 comeback win at Lower.com Field. If the Crew wants to continue climb the Easter Conference standings, that is a trend the defense will have to put an end to this weekend.

But the the Black & Gold still wishes Zardes the best when he’s not facing Columbus.

“He’s looking forward to these games as we are as well and I think he will have something burning in his stomach and can have maybe a point of proof,” said center back Miloš Degenek of Zardes this week. “I wish him well and I wish he continues to score and I hope he scores another 10 or 15 goals. I hope he goes to the World Cup. But I hope he doesn’t score on Saturday. I hope he scores in every other game.”

Beyond Saturday, Zardes’ accomplishments can quite literally pay off for the Crew. Black & Gold fans won’t need too many reasons to root for a person and a player like Zardes following Saturday’s game.