Our second weekly round up of the MLS teams ahead of the 2012 play-offs, this week it’s the Columbus Crew and Colorado Rapids
Ground: Columbus Crew Stadium, Columbus, OH
Head Coach: Robert Warzycha
Columbus Crew were a founder member of the MLS when it began in 1996, gaining an impressive 12,000 season ticket deposits ready for the league’s kick off. The team began with South African veteran Doctor Khumalo and also drafted Brian McBride, a player that would go on to various success in America and Europe, as well as the US National Team. Despite a weak start, the Crew won 9 of their last 10 games in their maiden season to reach the play-offs, where they ducked out in the semi-finals. The Crew hold the distinction of opening the US’ first soccer-specific stadium in 2003, but were unable to bring the MLS cup home until 2008, when Barros Schelotto led the Crew as MVP and Chad Marshall earned the Defender of the Year award – much to the surprise of onlookers, who expected LA Galaxy to thrive under new signing David Beckham – the Crew have qualified for the play-offs every season since then, having had a 3 year barren spell before their surprise win. This season, the Crew are in contention for a play off spot as expected, and are tussling for position with capital club D.C. United.
The Captain: Chad Marshall – Chad was selected in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft by the Columbus Crew as the 2nd pick overall, and has remained there since, earning one league title in 2008 and 3 supporter’s shields in 2004, 2008 and 2009. Chad was integral to the Crew’s title run in 2008, when he picked up MLS Defender of the Year, a feat he followed the year after. He picked up the Captaincy in 2011 from departing national team legend Frankie Hejduk
International Hotshot: Federico Higuain – Higuain joined the Crew in July 2012, becoming only their third ever, and only current, designated player. The 27 year old has spent most of his career in his native Argentina, playing as a Forward or Attacking Midfielder. He has already earned MLS player of the week for weeks 25 and 26 this season.
English fans may remember: Chris Birchall – born in Stafford, England, Chris started his Career with Port Vale, before having spells with Coventry and Brighton. In 2009, the midfielder – who plays his international football for Trinidad and Tobago (eligible through his Mother), made the switch to LA Galaxy where he won the league title in 2011. He took time out from football between January and May, initially wishing to return in England, but instead opted to join the Crew in May 2012
Ground: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
Head Coach: Oscar Pareja
Another club that has played in the MLS since its’ inception, the Colorado Rapids didn’t quite live up to their name at first, finishing last in their first season despite experience in Shaun Bartlett, Chris Woods and Marcel Balboa, and English Coach Bobby Houghton. Their second season was much happier, when a revamped squad under head coach Glenn Myernick, including keeper Marcus Hahnemann, was able to clinch a post-season spot, and advance to the final with two upsets along the way – despite this, they were unable to bring the cup home to Colorado. Having used a variety of colours, including black and blue, the Rapids rebranded the club in 2007 with a burgundy and blue badge and kit, bringing with it a new stadium and sporting complex with Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, plus links abroad with Arsenal and Pachuca. In 2010, a ring of roster changes plus a contract for star striker Conor Casey sent the club to their first MLS Cup final since 1997, winning against FC Dallas 2-1 after extra time – the first major trophy in the club’s history. This season however, the club stand little chance of repeating that recent success, as they trail by 8 points despite having only 15 to play for (at the time of writing).
The Captain: Pablo Mastroeni – 36 year old Mastroeni started his MLS career with now extinct Miami Fusion, making 100 appearances in both central defense and his preferred defense midfield. In the 2002 allocation draft, he was chosen by the Colorado Rapids where he has remained ever since. He has the 2010 MLS Cup medal and two Gold Cup medals for the USA in his trophy cabinet
Leading the Line: Conor Casey – A striker with experience in Germany with Dortmund, Hannover, Karlsruher and Mainz, Casey came to the MLS in 2007 with Toronto FC, but was traded to the Rapids after only 2 games. In 2010 he broke the club’s all time scoring record with 42 goals, having been named to the MLS best XI the year before
Experience at the Back: Tyrone Marshall – like his captain Mastroeni, 37 year old Marshall was part of the extinct Miami Fusion side, but started his MLS career as he is set to end it, having made 1 appearance for the Rapids in 1998. His MLS CV boasts 2 MLS cups with LA Galaxy in 2002 and 2005, as well as Open Cups with Seattle in 2009 and 2010