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By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- The MLS schedule makers certainly knew what they were doing when they decided to have the Columbus Crew travel to face the Colorado Rapids in a season opener Saturday night.
The Crew have been knocked out of each of the last two postseasons by the Rapids, who will play their first match under new coach Oscar Pareja.
Two seasons ago, Colorado eliminated Columbus in the Eastern Conference semifinals on penalty kicks. Last fall, they met in a wild-card playoff game and Omar Cummings' goal was the difference for the Rapids in a 1-0 victory at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
"In the back of our minds, if we get a victory there it's probably going to mean a little more than it would playing at another place," midfielder Danny O'Rourke told the Crew's official website.
Before the Crew can worry about winning, they have to worry about scoring a goal - something they have failed to do in their last four games at Colorado. That's something Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens hopes works in his club's favor again.
"Maybe we're in their heads a little bit as we beat them here a few times the last couple years," Pickens told MLSsoccer.com. "Hopefully that's in their head so when they come here they're already a notch down."
This will be the only meeting between these teams this season as Pareja takes over for Gary Smith, whom the Rapids let go after losing in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to Sporting Kansas City - one season after Smith led Colorado to its lone MLS Cup.
Pareja is familiar with the league having played from 1998-2005 for FC Dallas, the club for which the Colombian also served as an assistant for five seasons. He's now in charge of a team for the first time.
"I'm anxious, nervous, committed, positive," Pareja told the Rapids' official website. "I feel proud about the team that we have."
Pareja's first training camp was held in beautiful Hawaii, with tough scrimmages against teams from Australia and Japan.
"We wanted to give the team more minutes, more competition, more international competition," Pareja said. "It was a tremendous week."
Cummings is looking to bounce back after he had four goals in 2011 - significantly down from his 14 during a breakout 2010 season. He's part of an experienced group of returnees including Pablo Mastroeni, Tyrone Marshall, Drew Moor and Jeff Larentowicz, who led the Rapids with seven goals last year.
Columbus, meanwhile, must replace Andres Mendoza, whose 13 goals were the league's fourth-highest total last year. Forward Emilio Renteria, who added eight goals in 2011, will be paired up front with Chilean newcomer Milovan Mirosevic.
Goalkeeper Willliam Hesmer is out with an ankle injury so Andy Gruenebaum will start in goal for the Crew.
Columbus opens the season with numerous question marks. Midfielder Robbie Rogers is now with Leeds United in England's second division, and O'Rourke and fellow midfielders Eddie Gaven and Dily Duka all missed time in the preseason.
"The guys who were on those teams when Colorado knocked us out probably carry that with us a little bit," Crew captain Chad Marshall said. "Obviously you play the game to win championships. Any time you don't, you're always looking at the team that knocks you out but we've got a lot new guys. It's just another game for them."
Updated March 9, 2012