Stoke City: No old pals act for Columbus Crew's Chris Birchall as he goes gunning for Andy Wilkinson
COLUMBUS midfielder Chris Birchall would love to get bragging rights over his best mate Andy Wilkinson.
Birchall, from Yarnfield near Stone, will be in the Columbus Crew line-up for Stoke's opening pre-season friendly in the United States (12.30am UK time).
The 28-year-old former Port Vale midfielder expects a bit of friendly banter with the Stoke fans who have made the trip.
However, he is looking forward to hearing a few familiar North Staffordshire accents, not least that of his pal Wilkinson.
Birchall said: "Of the 25 Stoke players who are coming here, I must know 15 to 20 of them just to say hello to – and a good five to 10 of them who I am really close to.
"My best man and my best friend is the right-back.
"They are looking forward to it – and are dreading the weather.
"I keep saying it's 100 degrees so I am getting them scared!
"Stoke are in pre-season so it is all fitness for them.
"For us, it's one of those games you want to play in and, for me, I couldn't have picked a better team to play against.
"I haven't played against Stoke for five or six years from when I was at Coventry.
"It's always nice when I do. I get abuse from their fans because I played for the rivals Port Vale when I was younger.
"But they are a great team and hopefully there will be a good crowd."
Not that Birchall expects his best pal Wilkinson to go easy on him, friendly fixture or not.
He added: "There are always wagers between me and my friend saying we are going to put tackles in and kill each other!
"But it will be nice for them to come to town."
Birchall limbered up for tonight's game in some style as he scored a second-half winner for 'The Crew' against their old rivals DC United at the weekend.
That was the midfielder's first goal for Columbus since joining them from LA Galaxy for this season.
The win ended a run of three defeats in four matches for Columbus and leaves them sixth out of 10 teams in the MLS Eastern Conference.
Birchall is enjoying life in the Ohio city of Columbus.
He admits it is a little quieter than Los Angeles, but says it reminds him of home in North Staffordshire – minus the oatcakes.
He said: "Los Angeles is a great place to live, but it was so much busier and more congested than I was used to.
"I was used to Stoke which is similar to Columbus, a quiet city, not much going on, but home is where you grew up and Stoke is my home.
"Los Angeles and Columbus are certainly two different-sized cities.
"There's a beach in Los Angeles and the guys tended to go there after training to hang out.
"You don't have that here, it is more of a suburban neighbourhood.
"But one thing I have really noticed is the friendliness of the people here.
"Neighbours greet you every morning asking how you are and really wanting to know how your day is.
"I am used to that because I am from Stoke and that is a small city as well."