The Columbus Crew have one of their biggest matches of the season coming up soon, as they’re set to play in the US Open Cup’s Round of 16 on Wednesday, May 24.
The Crew drew the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, one of two USL Championship teams remaining. As such, they should have an easier time than most of the other teams as they try to advance… at least on paper.
With an opponent from the second tier of American professional soccer, the Crew need to take care of business in their match with the Hounds to avoid becoming a punchline: since the American soccer leagues began to take their current form in the mid 1990s, only one team from a level below MLS managed to win the US Open Cup and enter the CONCACAF Champions League for a chance at another title in doing so: the now defunct Rochester Rhinos in 1999.
The good news is that despite the fact that they’ll have to go on the road to face off against the Riverhounds, according to DraftKings Ohio, Columbus Crew has odds at -170 of advancing to the quarterfinals.
Here’s a look at the matchup between the Crew and the Hounds, including storylines to watch as Columbus tries to advance.
Columbus is firing on close to all cylinders right now, coming off a tight loss that could really spur them to step up their level of play: over the weekend they suffered a 3-2 loss at the hands of Cincinnati FC during MLS play (which has no impact on the US Open Cup right now), who have run rampant through MLS this season on the way to a league-best 9-3-1 margin. Cincinnati leapt out to an early 2-0 lead in Columbus in that match thanks to a pair of goals by midfielder Luciano Acosta, but the Crew scraped their way back with two goals right around halftime, showing the type of fight you want from a team in the middle of a championship run.
Unfortunately for Columbus, another Cincy goal at 67’ sank them, even though they dominated possession for two thirds of the game. Over in the US Open Cup bracket, Crew cleaned up nicely to advance to the Round of 16, obliterating Loudoun United FC of USL Championship in a dominant 5-1 showing. While they currently sit in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference in MLS with a 5-5-3 record, they’ve had no trouble putting teams away in the US Open Cup: their ability to flip the switch with a title hanging in the balance could do them wonders, especially if they’re able to do so during the MLS season as well.
The Riverhounds, like Columbus, are a plucky bunch, and they’re entering this matchup on a high note. While they struggled to put teams away earlier in the USL Championship season, they’re getting hot at the right time (at least as it pertains to the US Open Cup), finding their killer instinct at a time when one mistake could mean they’re going home.
The Hounds knocked off New England Revolution of MLS to get to this point, going on the road to Gillette Stadium and eking out a 1-0 win against the No. 3 team in MLS’ Eastern Conference as their defense limited New England to just one shot on target despite the Revolution holding possession for more than two thirds of the game in a heroic performance.
Columbus has their work cut out for them, and they’ll have to be careful not to overlook Pittsburgh as yet another chapter begins in the heated rivalry between Ohio and Steel City sports teams. Should they manage to stay on course, though, they’ve got an excellent chance of earning a quarterfinals berth.