COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the first time in four years, the Crew’s home opener won’t be against Toronto FC. The consolation prize, however, isn’t too shabby.
Instead of Dwayne De Rosario, Crew fans will get an up close and personal look at New York Red Bulls stars Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez when the Red Bulls visit Crew Stadium on Saturday, March 26.
The game – which marks the first time either of New York’s Designated Players will play in Columbus since joining the team earlier this year – will kick off at 4 pm ET, with broadcast information still to be determined.
“If the marquee players are there for New York, that will help elevate the overall crowd early in the year where we might in general have a hard time putting people in the stands because of the weather,” Crew technical director Brian Bliss said.
Henry was signed several days before the Crew hosted the Red Bulls on July 17. He came to the match, but watched the Crew’s 2-0 victory from a suite. Márquez was signed Aug. 2.
As for the subplot in this one, New York edged the Crew by a point (51-50) last season to end the Crew’s two-year run as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Crew will open the season on the road against D.C. United on March 19.
“Some of the preliminary discussions were, we were going to play cross-conference the first half of the year and in-conference the second half of the year, but that didn’t come to fruition,” Bliss said.
Neither did having Toronto for the first home game. The Reds will host Portland in their home opener March 26. And that’s a shame for the Crew, who went 2-0-1 and outscored TFC 5-1 in the past three home openers.
The New York match, however, won’t be the first game to be played in Crew Stadium next year.
The Crew open the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League on Feb. 22 vs. Real Salt Lake before traveling to Utah for the return leg March 1. A strong showing in last year’s quarterfinals against Mexico’s Toluca helped the Crew to a fast start in MLS play, going 6-0-2.
“Everybody’s going to play a similar amount of games in preparation for when the season opens up,” Bliss said. “If we can get those preparation games in, plus two what I call meaningful games in the Champions League, that’s two extra games that can make the difference.”