Schedule Breakdown: Crew's 2013 schedule offers homefield advantage in Eastern Conference
All 19 MLS clubs released their 2013 schedules on Wednesday. Crew President and General Manager Mark McCullers and Head Coach Robert Warzycha offered up their reactions to the announcement.
STARTING ON THE ROAD, FINISHING AT HOME
To start the 2013 season, the Crew will play just three of its eight games in March and April in Columbus. While two of those three matches at home come against playoff teams in the San Jose Earthquakes on March 16 and D.C. United on April 27, three of its five on the road to start 2013 come against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, D.C. United and the Chicago Fire, all of whom made the playoffs in 2012. March and April will be crucial as the Black & Gold look to avoid the rocky 2-4-1 start the team began 2012 with and qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs in November
"It's going to be a tough stretch for us," Warzycha said on Wednesday. "It's five away and three at home, and obviously we're going to have to play well. We have to get points away from home because everybody knows how important the beginning of the season is. You want to start on the right note and with your best players. Another thing is not having injuries, so we have a full squad ready for the first game."
"Health is one of the things I look at as being key," McCullers echoed. "We've got veterans on the team who know how to start the season. It's a marathon, not a sprint, as we know. But if we can get some points out of the away games early in the season and take care of business at home, I think we're going to be in good shape."
To finish 2013, the Crew will play three of its final five matches at Crew Stadium against the Chicago Fire, Sporting Kansas City and the New England Revolution. Those three matches will play a pivotal role in a potential Eastern Conference playoff race.
"With the season starting earlier and earlier, it's just inevitable we're going to have more games on the road earlier in the season," McCullers explained. "The flip side of that is that we have more games at home down the stretch. I think it's a favorable situation for us as he get into a playoff run in the fall."
Added Warzycha, "We have a lot of home games in the later part of the season, so we have to make sure that in the first part of the season we do well."
EASTERN CONFERENCE ADVANTAGE
In all, the Black & Gold will play 13 home games against Eastern Conference foes in 2013. Of the 14 slated matches against 2012 Eastern Conference playoff teams, eight will come at home in Columbus. The Crew will relish two home fixtures against the New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo each this upcoming season.
"It's one of the first things I noticed about the schedule," McCullers said. "When you look at some of the teams that were the stronger teams in our conference last year: we have New York home two out of three and we have Houston at home two out of three. Kansas City is really the only team where we have two away this year out of three. That works favorably for us, in terms of hosting the majority of the stronger teams here at Crew Stadium."
Last season, the Crew went 11-3-3 in Columbus. It will look to build on that success again in 2013.
"The last few years, we've been very successful at home," Warzycha explained. "It always keeps us in good shape. Last year, we won 11 games at home. That's a good record, I think it was third in the League. We're going to try to continue to do the same. We know how important home games are because of the standings and having your supporters here cheering for us. We feel like we have an extra player on the field, so that always helps. We just have to have a better record on the road, because that's what will get us into the playoffs."
SAVE THESE DATES
3/16 - Crew vs. San Jose Earthquakes
The Crew will welcome defending MLS Supporters' Shield winners the San Jose Earthquakes to open Crew Stadium for 2013, providing a measuring stick for the Black & Gold right off the bat.
McCullers: "First Kick is a game that jumps out at me, right out of the gate. We're playing San Jose with [former Crew players] Stevie Lenhart and Jon Busch on that team, I think it's a great matchup for our home opener. It's exciting."
5/4 - Crew vs. New York Red Bulls
In the only national TV game at Crew Stadium this season, the Black & Gold will host Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls to begin the month of May.
7/7 - Crew vs. Portland Timbers FC
Former Akron University Head Coach Caleb Porter returns to Ohio in early July, potentially squaring off against former Akron standouts Ben Speas and Wil Trapp.
6/22 and 9/21 - Crew vs. Chicago Fire
The Black & Gold welcome their Midwestern rival twice in 2013, looking to avenge two away losses to the Fire last season.
8/17 - Crew vs. Toronto FC
The Crew will look to secure the Trillium Cup at home as the 2013 series concludes in August.
8/31 - Crew vs. Seattle Sounders FC
2008 MLS Cup winning Head Coach Sigi Schmid returns to Columbus following the Crew's first-ever victory against the Sounders last season in Seattle.
10/27 - Crew vs. New England Revolution
The Black & Gold close 2013 against the New England Revolution in late October. This could be a match that sends the Crew into the MLS Cup Playoffs.