After weathering the snowy conditions and an onslaught of offense in New York, the Black-and-Red returns to RFK Stadium this weekend looking to continue its fine run of form at home when it plays host the Columbus Crew this Saturday, March 23 (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC Sports Network / Romantica 900 AM).
This weekend’s match is each team’s fourth game of the 2013 MLS season, both teams sporting 1-1-1 records coming into Saturday. However, these two clubs are not strangers, meeting 54 times over 18 MLS regular seasons, third most all-time among all United opponents. Of those 54 games, 27 of them have taken place at RFK Stadium and the Black-and-Red has sent the Crew home winless 21 times, with an 18-6-3 record all-time at RFK Stadium.
The D.C. United-Columbus Crew rivalry reached an all-time high in 2012 as the teams met on three different occasions, but none more memorable than a matchup on Oct. 20, 2012 at RFK Stadium. With playoff implications on the line, United played an incredible match to the wire, in what would prove to be the most significant win for the Black-and-Red in recent memory. After going back and forth leading up what looked to end as a 2-2 draw, United capitalized on a breakaway effort that saw United midfielder Lewis Neal finish a 91st minute, game-winning, playoff-clinching strike, giving United a 3-2 victory over the Crew and seeing the Black-and-Red back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
With the history between the teams in the rearview, both United and the Crew will face off without some key players in the teams’ first matchup of 2013. Columbus will compete without its standout forward Jairo Arrieta. The Costa Rican native will be battling against the United States Men’s National Team in the second round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers tonight at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
Despite the absence of Arrieta in the Crew’s lineup, D.C. United midfielder Perry Kitchen still expects to have a busy day.
“We know they have some very dangerous players in [Federico] Higuaín and [Eddie] Gaven,” said Kitchen. “I’m probably gonna have my hands full with Higuaín … it’s gonna be a tough day, but I think it’s gonna be a good matchup.”
United center back Dejan Jakovic, along with Black-and-Red midfielder Marcos Sánchez, will also miss action in this weekend’s matchup after both players received call-ups for national team duty. Jakovic will be competing with the Canada Men’s National Team tonight in a friendly against Japan in Doha, Qatar. Sánchez, also playing tonight, will represent Panama against Jamaica at Independence Park in Kingston, Jamaica in a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying match.
Even with some players missing, the Black-and-Red faithful have high hopes for their team that has had a lot of success at home lately and looking to build on a 19-game home-unbeaten streak. And coming off of a lackluster performance in New York against the Red Bulls, United Head Coach Ben Olsen is looking to have a better showing against a Columbus team that has only seen victory six times in 27 tries at RFK Stadium.
“We took a point from New York with a pretty gutsy performance,” said Olsen. “Is it good enough? No. Two years ago, we would’ve been happy just getting a point – now we’re not happy. The expectations are much higher from our fans and we have to play much better than that.”