Match #24 Preview: Philadelphia Union At Columbus Crew

COLUMBUS OH - OCTOBER 24: Emilio Renteria #20 of the Columbus Crew kicks the ball past goalkeeper Chris Seitz #1 of the Philadelphia Union for the Crew's second goal on October 24 2010 at Crew Stadium in Columbus Ohio. Columbus defeated Philadelphia 3-1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Setting: Saturday, August 20 at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio; kickoff scheduled for 7:36:30 PM Eastern

Broadcast Information: The Comcast Network (JP Dellacamera, Taylor Twellman, Bob Rigby) with coverage beginning at 7:00 PM Eastern with a pre-game show / ONN (Dwight Burgess, Dante Washington, Katie Witham), News Talk 610 WTVN-AM (Neil Sika, John Bluem) and La Mega 103.1 WVKO-FM (Carlos Cordova, Benny Pietrangelo) in Columbus / MLS Direct Kick, MatchDay Live (ONN feed)

Columbus's Record: 10-7-7, first in East

Columbus's Last Match: W, 3-1 vs. New England

Philadelphia vs. Columbus Last Season: 0-2-0 (Columbus 2 @ Philadelphia 1 on August 5; Philadelphia 1 @ Columbus 3 in the Union's 2010 regular season finale)

After overcoming two deficits to hold FC Dallas to a 2-2 draw last weekend at PPL Park, the second-place Philadelphia Union are in Columbus to take on the first-place Crew in what many are calling the biggest match in the Union's brief history. There's no beating around the bush on this one: entering tomorrow night's match, the Crew lead Philadelphia by three points with one match in hand. For the Union to reclaim first place and stay clear of the oncoming Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo in the standings, Philadelphia needs three points. Save for last year's home openers at Lincoln Financial Field and PPL Park, they would be the biggest three points this team has ever accrued.

Columbus, much like Philadelphia, was not expected to be where they are in the standings. This was expected to be more of a rebuilding year for them as they transitioned from the side that won MLS Cup in 2008, was first in the East the following year, and finished second last year (thus the jettisoning of Brian Carroll to the Union this past offseason). Guillermo Barros Schelotto, arguably the face of the team during his four year tenure with the team, is gone. Frankie Hejduk, who spent eight years in Columbus, serving as their captain, is gone as well. Columbus is now led in the offense department by Andres Mendoza, while Chad Marshall has taken over the reigns as captain. Emilio Renteria and Hamilton, NJ native Eddie Gaven link with Mendoza to score enough to get by, while Will Hesmer performs superbly in goal.

The Union come into Columbus having now had a full week's worth of training with Freddy Adu. Against Dallas, Adu showed flashes of brilliance, but there's only so much one can do on literally one training session, which is all Adu had to learn his teammates' tendencies and manager Piotr Nowak's system before suiting up. His fitness has likely worked its way back up towards match form, too, so expect him to become an immediate fixture on the pitch for Philadelphia. The aforementioned Carroll, who has been the stalwart in midfield that the Union were hoping for when acquiring him from Columbus, will miss tomorrow's match with a right knee contusion. Expect Stefani Miglioranzi or Amobi Okugo to be slotted in his place. This will be a good one -- these two teams are very similar to one another, and if Philadelphia can put the finishing touches on one chance in the run of play, one suspects that the floodgates might open for Le Toux, Mwanga and Adu.

Projected starters, up-to-date injury reports and assorted notes after the jump...

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: Mondragon (C); G. Farfan, Valdes, Califf, Williams; Miglioranzi; Daniel, Adu, Mapp; Mwanga, Le Toux

Columbus: Hesmer; Gardner, James, Marshall (C), Miranda; Burns; Rogers, Ekpo, Meram; Heinemann, Mendoza

Injury updates:

Late breaking news from the Union is that Brian Carroll will indeed be unavailable for tomorrow's match thanks to a right knee contusion. Also for Philadelphia, Levi Houapeu, who continues to rehab his left ankle, is considered "questionable" while Michael Farfan is listed as "probable" despite a right quad contusion.

For Columbus, Toni Tchani and Shaun Francis will be unavailable for tomorrow's match due to right knee inflammation and a left adductor strain, respectively. Alex Riggs, Eddie Gaven and Jeff Cunningham are considered "doubtful" thanks to a left oblique strain, a right lower leg contusion and right knee inflammation, respectively. Dejan Rusmir and Rich Balchan are listed as "questionable" because of left calf tightness and a left adductor sprain, respectively. Emilio Renteria is considered "probable" despite a left quad strain.

Of note:

  • Mark Kadlecik is listed as tomorrow's referee. In 12 career MLS matches, he has called for an average of just under 23 fouls per match, handed out just over three yellow cards per match, given a total of three red cards and has called for three penalty kicks.
  • Julius James, Brian Carroll, Carlos Valdes and Sheanon Williams are all one caution away from receiving an automatic one-match disciplinary suspension for yellow card accumulation. Danny Califf, Danny Mwanga and five Crew players (Kevin Burns, Tommy Heinemann, Sebastian Miranda, Dejan Rusmir and Toni Tchani) are two yellow cards away.
  • Earlier we noted that these teams are strikingly similar -- Philadelphia has scored 29 goals and conceded 22 while Columbus has scored 27 and conceded 23 with one more match played. Mathematically speaking, Philadelphia scores every 71 minutes and concedes every 94 minutes while Columbus scores every 80 minutes and concedes every 94 minutes.
  • Against New England last weekend, Columbus conceded first for the sixth time in 12 home matches. That hasn't hampered them too much, though -- they are 3-7-4 when allowing the first goal, second only to Seattle, who has accumulated 15 points in matches in which they've allowed first, in that department.
  • Columbus has scored nine times and conceded in the first fifteen minutes after halftime, so look out for a wide open start to the second half. It is also important to point out that they have conceded five times in the first fifteen minutes of matches, and score nine goals in the final fifteen minutes of matches. They might have some trouble starting matches, but they can sure finish them out.
Can the Union reclaim first place? Or will Columbus land themselves some breathing room atop the Eastern Conference? Given some of the quotes tossed around from both sides in the last few days, to say this match will be intense might be an understatement. This might be the definition of a chess match -- goals (and substantial offensive chances, for that matter) ought to come at a premium. Then again, you never know, do you? Hope you can join us for a gamethread tomorrow night! This is a big one.
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