Commerce City, CO – The Columbus Crew's season opener at the Colorado Rapids on Saturday has more significance than just starting the year with a positive result.
Columbus has been eliminated in the postseason by Colorado Rapids the last two seasons, and visits Dick's Sporting Goods Park in a match featuring two squads that have a lot of questions to answer in 2012.
Although the Crew survived Robert Warzycha's makeover prior to last season, it faces more adjustments this season.
Andres Mendoza had a team-high 13 goals and also bagged two assists last year, and Robbie Rogers escaped an up-and-down season with a team-high seven assists and two goals.
That duo departed in the offseason, leaving a just few big pieces in place for the upcoming season in defender Chad Marshall and midfielder Eddie Gaven.
Although Warzycha has a lot of young talent on board, getting those players to jell will be a task. He also acquired Chilean international midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and Costa Rican forward Olman Lopez, but how they adapt is unknown.
Warzycha proved last year he could retool the club, but the competition may be even better throughout the league. That said, Columbus should still be able to contend for a playoff berth.
And if it advances again this season, it could not face Colorado until the MLS Cup. The postseason format changed prior to this season, meaning there are not cross-over teams between conferences for the postseason.
Columbus has dealt with injuries this preseason, and that could hurt the team early in the season.
"Look at all the new guys we have," Warzycha said. "It's not because we're trying to change the team. It's because we have injuries."
Colorado just won the MLS Cup two seasons ago and advanced in the playoffs one year ago, but it no longer has coach Gary Smith and has turned the squad over to Oscar Pareja.
Pareja starts his tenure with forward Conor Casey and defender Anthony Wallace both out with Achilles injuries, and midfielder Jamie Smith sidelined with an ACL tear, among other problems, and will face a brutal schedule with the slate now conference-heavy.
Casey and Smith are important pieces on offense, and Pareja admitted, "They're not ready, but they're doing very well."
Like Columbus, Colorado could face a long year if the opening stages take too big of a toll.
Colorado and Columbus will not meet each other again in the regular season, as the schedule will limit West vs. East matches this year, but both hope to look back on the meeting as the spark for a successful season.