On Thursday, the Black-and-Red start their postseason campaign with a Knockout Round match against the Columbus Crew, who finished the regular season with the same point total, but a lower goal differential, than United. Thursday's match is the first playoff match of the Audi Field era, but it will not be the first time these two storied clubs meet in the postseason. In fact, playoff history between these league originals goes all the way back to the beginning of MLS.
In 1997, United defeated the Crew 3-2 at RFK Stadium and 1-0 on the road to win the Eastern Conference title and advance to the MLS Cup, where United would defeat the Colorado Rapids to win the title. A Tony Sanneh brace and Raul Diaz Arce goal at home against the Crew gave United the edge heading into Leg Two, then Diaz Arce scored the lone goal in Columbus to push United through to the final.
The Black-and-Red met the Crew in the postseason again in 1998 in a best-of-three series, earning two wins at home and outscoring their opponent 7-4 across the course of three games. Sanneh tallied another two goals against the Crew in 1998, and Roy Lassiter bagged a total of three goals against Columbus as the Black-and-Red advanced to another MLS Cup. After defeating the Crew for the second consecutive year in the Eastern Conference Final, United fell just short of winning back-to-back MLS Cups, falling to the Chicago Fire 1-0 in the title game.
United would again advance to the championship game in 1999 after defeating Columbus in the Eastern Conference Final for the third year in a row. Current head coach Ben Olsen was a starter for the District and scored the game-winning goal in the 72nd minute of the Leg One match to give United the series lead, but the Crew came roaring back with a 5-1 win in game two. However, the Black-and-Red came back with a blowout of their own in game three, defeating the Crew 4-0 and earning another Eastern Conference title thanks to a Roy Lassiter brace and goals from Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno. United would go on to win their third MLS Cup in four years with a 2-0 victory over the LA Galaxy.
Thursday night's game between United and the Crew will add to what is already a storied history between the clubs. United have only lost two matches at Audi Field since moving into their new home, and haven’t lost a game since August 29, meaning the Knockout Round matchup will be a tall task for the Crew. Anything can happen in the playoffs, though, and both United and Columbus will be pushing to return their club to glory. To see this classic matchup, buy Knockout Round tickets here.