A hostile environment is anticipated at Toyota Park when former Fire head coach Juan Carlos Osorio returns to Chicago to lead his Red Bulls in a crucial Eastern Conference match against the team he abandoned during the offseason.
But a far more amiable reunion is also on the docket in another conference showdown between the league's top two teams. The Revs will line up at Columbus Crew Stadium to take on the conference-leading Crew having exchanged some pleasantries during the pre-match warmup.
At least, that's how five-year Rev veteran Pat Noonan believes the day will play out. He wants to share stories and have a few laughs, beat the pants off his ex-teammates, then maybe resume the good times after the game.
"No, these are lifelong friends," says Noonan of men like Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman and Jay Heaps and others. "I was away for six months and while I was gone I was talking to them all the time. It won't be anything like hate towards any of them because none of them had anything to do with what happened to me."
What happened shocked Noonan and many of the Revs. The team and MLS declined to pick up his option and instead offered him a new contract worth substantially less than the $225,000 he'd earned in 2007. He turned down the offer and signed with Norwegian club Aalesund, which employs former Rev goalie Adin Brown.
"I was not expecting to not having my option picked up," says Noonan, who in five seasons played 119 games, scored 37 goals, and registered 29 assists in regular season play. "I had produced for them for five good years. Obviously, they felt I was injured too much and I can't deny that. At the same time, I still put some numbers on the board in those injured seasons and they knew what I was capable of.
"When they didn't pick up the option that meant it was time to move on, since they were looking ahead already. So I felt it was best for me to try somewhere else."
As it turned out, anywhere else might have been better than Aalesund. Unsuited to the team's long-ball style and chafing in the reserves trying to display his finesse and guile, Noonan stuck it out for only a few months before beginning to ponder a way back.
How did former manager Soren Åkeby like to play? Forward Tor Hogne Aaroy is an imposing target at 2.04 meters. That's six feet, 8 ½ inches, more or less.
"I think he's the tallest player in all of football," chuckles Noonan, who usually played a wide midfield position, "so it didn't allow for a lot of midfield play. It was a 4-4-2 system with the big guy up top and another forward, so it wasn't a good situation. It didn't look like it was going to change, so I thought it would be best to come back so I could keep playing."
Former Hertha Berlin captain and Norwegian international Kjetil Rekdalsubsequently replaced Åkeby but Noonan stuck to his decisions to leave not only the club, but Europe entirely.
"I would have liked to stay there," he says of a league that has attracted many MLS products, including Brown and ex-D.C. United goalie Troy Perkins, who plays for Valeranga. "There are some good teams in the league and it would have been nice to attract one of them, but having gone over there and not played, none of the teams saw me. Obviously, the MLS teams have known about me for five years so that seemed like the best bet, to come back here."
A best bet, however, isn't necessarily easy to place. Because the Revs offer fell under the heading of "reasonable" as per MLS player regulations, New England retained first right of refusal if he decided to return to the league. Discussions dragged on through July as several clubs bid for Noonan, though Crew coach Sigi Schmid had made it clear to MLS his interest remained strong. The Revs, well-stocked with lower-priced attackers Kheli Dube, Adam Cristman, Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi, and rolling along in first place, took their time.
"It's a strange system but I didn't expect to come back after six months, but I also knew by coming back there's a good chance I'd be able to go somewhere else," says Noonan, who has played three games [one start] since joining the Crew. "They're having a successful year and they have some good young talent, and I was a higher-priced player. When a team has four guys making not-much money, it doesn't make sense to keep me. So I knew there was a good chance I'd be going to another team. It wasn't something I was expecting but you close that chapter and move on."
In the end Columbus gave up its first pick in the 2009 SuperDraft and some allocation money to close the deal in early August. "You can't get a player of Pat's ability and experience with a first-round pick," says Schmid. "It made a lot of sense to us."
One facet of the deal didn't make sense to Noonan, and that was going to an Eastern team. Since acquiring Noonan, Columbus has climbed over New England atop the conference and has the league's best record (12-6-4). Not that Noonan and his 101 minutes have contributed greatly to that accomplishment, but facts are facts.
"That was a reason I didn't expect to come here, because I didn't think New England would trade me to a conference opponent who were only a couple of points behind them," he says. "It worked out that way and since I've been here there have been three victories. I haven't been too much involved in those victories but it's still good to see. Now I'm trying to get the fitness up to 100 percent so I can be ready to contribute more, but at the same time when things are going well you don't want to change things."
Only by beating Columbus can the Revs recapture first place, and the Crew can open up a five-point lead by winning, so the importance of this match is clear. Noonan wants minutes, of course, preferably from the opening kickoff, yet there will be plenty to do before and after formal hostilities commence.
"It'll be exciting to battle against them from the beginning but if not hopefully I can come off the bench and maybe put one in the net," he says. "Hopefully I can get the anxiety out right away and just take it as another game and do the same things as if it was any other opponent. It'll be great to see them and battle against them and hopefully we'll get a victory."
This might be a deal that works out great for both teams, even if at least one person can't agree that business decisions are often just business.
"I still have a lot of good friends there and respect for the organization but I didn't respect that decision," says Noonan.