Sixteen players have worn the jerseys of both the Fire and Columbus Crew since 1998, the Fire’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer.
The list includes some of the most prominent players on both sides. The Crew made Brian McBride the first-ever MLS draft choice, and he finished his stellar career with the Fire. Ante Razov scored a franchise-record 76 goals for the Fire from 1998-2004 before being traded to the Crew for defender Tony Sanneh.
A trade between the two clubs in the last offseason is of more major interest now, though, with the teams squaring off at Toyota Park on Saturday in their first of three meetings in 2013.
The Fire agreed to striker Dominic Oduro’s request for a trade after last season and sent him to Columbus on Feb. 4 in exchange for midfielder Dilly Duka and the rights to midfielder Robbie Rogers.
So far the deal has been onesided, in Columbus’ favor. If it stays that way, the trade will go down as arguably the worst in Fire history.
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Oduro brought a lethargic Fire attack to life in 2011 when he scored a career-high 18 goals after coming from Houston in an early-season trade for Calen Carr. Last season, however, his goal production dropped off. Coach Frank Klopas used him mainly off the bench late in the season, preferring to go with Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald instead.
MacDonald, acquired midway through the season, had four goals and four assists in 14 games. He’s now a Designated Player. Oduro finished 2012 with six goals and three assists. Believing the Fire staff wanted to go with MacDonald and Chris Rolfe up top, Oduro requested a trade and was accommodated early in training camp when the Crew picked him up.
The Crew (2-1-3) has done much better with Oduro than the Fire (1-4-1) has done without him. Oduro has started all six Columbus matches and has scored in the last two. Last week’s tally at Montreal, which produced a 1-1 draw, was worthy of the season highlight reel.
"It was one of those goals I will cherish the rest of my life," said Oduro. "It felt fantastic. It’s not every day you score a goal like that."
On the Fire side, the trade hasn’t produced much. Duka, the Crew’s first-round draft pick (eighth overall) out of Rutgers in 2010, started three matches on the left side of the midfield before developing a hamstring injury. He had a five-minute stint off the bench in last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Houston. He’s without a goal or an assist for the Fire so far.
As for Rogers, who had been playing for England side Stevenage, he announced his retirement after declaring that he was gay. So far he hasn’t changed his mind on playing again, but is apparently thinking about it. In a March 29 interview with England media, he declared himself ready to get fit but hinted his first call would be to Bruce Arena, head coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy, and not to the Fire.
Time will tell how that plays out, but the Crew comes to Toyota Park with a four-game unbeaten streak (1-0-3) but also saddled with a nine-game winless streak (0-5-4) in Bridgeview. The Crew hasn’t won at Toyota Park since 2006.
The Fire remains offensively challenged after scoring only once in the first four matches. MacDonald still hasn’t scored, but running mate Rolfe got his first goal at Houston and Columbus has been an agreeable opponent for him. A Dayton University product, Rolfe didn’t get drafted by Ohio’s MLS team but scored more of his 45 career MLS goals against Columbus than any other league rival. He has connected eight times against the Crew.
MacDonald was happy to see Rolfe hit the net against the Dynamo and hopes it bids well for him as well.
"When Rolfie has his confidence he’s a fantastic player," said MacDonald. "It’s good for the group…Next game it’s my turn. I feel like it’s coming."
What won’t be coming for at least a while is the long-anticipated return of German defender Arne Friedrich to the Fire lineup. Bothered by a hamstring injury suffered in training camp, Friedrich had resumed training two weeks ago but suffered a setback this week. The Fire now says he’s out indefinitely.
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"I trained for two weeks and my legs always felt pretty tight," said Friedrich. "Now I feel pain again, so I have to be patient. I can’t promise when I’ll be back."
The only player listed on the team’s weekly injury report was defender Steven Kinney (right quadriceps tightness).