Setting: Saturday, April 14 at PPL Park in Chester; kickoff scheduled for 3:51 PM Eastern
Broadcast Information: NBC Sports Network (Arlo White, Kyle Martino) nationally, with coverage beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern / 610 WTVN-AM (Neil Sika) and 103.1 WVKO-FM (Carlos Cordova, Benny Pietrangelo) in Columbus / MLS Live (Canada only)
Columbus's Record: 2-2-0, six points (fourth in East)
Columbus's Last Match: L, 4-1 vs. Red Bulls
For the Columbus Perspective, Visit Massive Report
The Philadelphia Union have had their bye week, and their chance to regroup, not to mention continue to work on forming increased chemistry between new and returning players. Now, minus Roger Torres, they get another chance to finally put their season on the right track as they host a stiff competitor in the Columbus Crew. There's been a lot of talk by the team, media and fans alike about what needs to change and what needs to be improved, both in a practical sense as well as in a strategic sense. Union supporters have begun to grow restless for the first time in team history, and rightly so. It's added a new pressure to players and management, though, and it was bound to happen at some point, but it'll be awfully interesting to see how both groups respond.
Standing between Philadelphia and its first victory of the season are the cagey Crew, with whom the Union battled for much of last season over the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Crew haven't quite shown that form they found success with last year, and certainly a blowout loss at home to East-challenger New York hasn't helped in that regard, but they're formidable nonetheless in terms of talent, with Eddie Gaven and Emilio Renteria offensively and Chad Marshall defensively, and coaching with Robert Warzycha. The Red Bulls torched Columbus on the wings in particular though, and if there's but one area where Philadelphia's looked half-decent offensively (outside of free kicks), it's flank play. The Crew are banged up, too, especially on defense, where they've just lost starting goalkeeper Will Hesmer for some six months due to hip surgery. That, plus the continued loss of Julius James to a collapsed lung ought to leave even more room for Sheanon Williams and Michael Farfan if a shaky Columbus backline decides to pack it in a bit.
Defensively for the Union, there's not a ton to complain about. Their defensive effort a couple of weeks ago against Vancouver was quite effective, and even three weeks ago in Chicago, you could see the improvement. How does the bye week affect a strengthening defense? Is momentum lost, or can Zac MacMath and the backline continue to put the pieces back together? If it's the latter, and the Union can take advantage of some Columbus injuries and force the offensive issue, they've got a shot at three points. If a week without match preparation hasn't helped chemistry-wise, and prevents the Union from getting a good footing in possession before they can get their legs under them (no pun intended), it could be another long afternoon at PPL Park before the team heads to California to take on surprise story Chivas USA.
Projected starters, injury reports and assorted notes after the jump...
Philadelphia: MacMath; Lopez, Valdes, Califf, Williams; Adu, Carroll, Gomez, M. Farfan; Mwanga, Pajoy
Columbus: Gruenebaum; Francis, Gehrig, Marshall, Miranda; Urso; Anor, Mirosevic, Gaven; Renteria, Vargas
For Philadelphia, Roger Torres of course is out for some six to ten weeks (depending on where you get your estimate) following left knee MCL surgery, and Krystian Witkowski remains sidelined due to a concussion. Danny Califf is dealing with a left hamstring strain, but the team calls his availability "probable".
For Columbus, Ben Speas (sports hernia rehab), Rich Balchan (sports hernia rehab), Tommy Heinemann (left knee microfracture surgery recovery), Julius James (recovery from collapsed lung) and Will Hesmer (hip surgery recovery) are all unavailable. Carlos Mendes (right hamstring strain) and Danny O'Rourke (left ankle sprain) are considered to be "probable" by the Crew.
- Michael Kennedy is listed as the match referee. In 146 MLS matches, Kennedy has called an average of between 28 and 29 fouls per match, handed out an average of just under four yellow cards per match, given a total of 28 red cards, and has awarded a total of 49 penalty kicks.
- It's early in the season, of course, and the sample sizes are awfully small, but the Crew have already allowed two goals within the first fifteen minutes of their matches. A strong-willed Union might be able to break open Columbus early.
- If the Union struck first, would they remember what to do? They haven't had the opportunity to try and manage a lead since First Kick in Portland, which seems like forever ago already.
Another chance for the first three points of 2012. It goes without saying, of course, that basically every team the Union face right now look to have a big advantage on paper, and the Crew are no different. Fortunately for the Union, though, Columbus enters PPL Park hurt by injuries and without their starting goalkeeper, and points might just be ripe for the picking if they can get their legs under them quickly after a bye week. If you're heading down to PPL Park for the match, enjoy, and if you're not, we hope you can join us for a gamethread!