Crew Cuts: Marquee matchup

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The NFL kicks off this weekend, with most of the action on Sunday as usual. Click to any sports website or TV station and the dawn of a new football season would be hard to miss.

At this point, how many times have ESPN viewers seen Ron Jaworski mouth, "Play on, playa"?

The Crew is playing Sunday, too, in a marquee match that would be getting dissected endlessly by TV analysts in some bizarro universe where our culture followed MLS with the same magnifying-glass intensity it focuses on American football.

The Houston Dynamo is coming to town. If that doesn't mean anything to you, consider the following:

* East-leading Columbus (10-4-9) is one point behind West-leading Houston (11-7-7) for the best record in MLS. Whichever club ends up atop the table at season's end wins the Supporters Shield and qualifies for the CONCACAF Champions League, a tournament that pits top MLS clubs against the best teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

* Houston and Columbus have won the past three MLS Cups between them - the Dynamo in 2006 and 2007 and the Crew in 2008.

* The clubs feature numerous players who have contributed to the United States' World Cup qualifying run: Houston's Brian Ching, Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden plus Columbus' Chad Marshall, Robbie Rogers and Frankie Hejduk.

* The New York Red Bulls upset Houston in last year's playoffs, denying last year's Crew a chance to prove their mettle against the Western Conference's elite squad.

* In the March 21 season opener, the Crew tied the Dynamo 1-1 in Houston. A win here would secure the season series for Columbus and allow the Crew a mental edge if the teams meet in MLS Cup.

* In the thick of an intense playoff race, the Crew needs every point it can get, even against a Western Conference foe. Three points Sunday could be the difference between hosting November's Eastern Conference final in the cozy confines of Crew Stadium and having to travel to, say, Chicago and play in front of their boisterous fans.

Without much history between these clubs, even by MLS standards, Dynamo-Crew is not exactly Giants-Cowboys or Browns-Steelers. But for fans of quality soccer - and those who hope to see more of it on American soil - Sunday's showdown is worth getting excited for.

What: Houston Dynamo at Columbus Crew

When: 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13

Where: Crew Stadium, North Side