Setting: Saturday, September 29 at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, OH; kickoff scheduled for 7:36:30 PM Eastern
Broadcast Information: The Comcast Network (JP Dellacamera, Bob Rigby), with coverage starting at 7:00 PM Eastern with a pre-game show / FOX Sports Ohio (Dwight Burgess, Duncan Oughton, Ashleigh Ignelzi), 610 AM WTVN (Neil Sika, John Bluem), WVKO FM 103.1 (Carlos Cordova, Benny Pietrangelo) in Columbus / MLS Live, Direct Kick (FOX Sports Ohio feed)
Columbus's Record: 13-11-6 (45 points, sixth in East)
Columbus's Last MLS Match: L, 2-1 at Chicago
For the Columbus Perspective, Visit Massive Report
Having finally broken a winless streak that stretched back nearly two months, the Philadelphia Union are back on the road to take on the Columbus Crew for the third and final time this season. Columbus enters play this weekend in the #6 seed in the East, just a single point out of the #5 seed and a playoff position. However, while the Crew still more or less control their own destiny, they have dropped three of their last four matches (0-3-1), and probably cannot afford to drop any more. Like with Houston last week, Philadelphia is facing an opponent in big time need of a win. After facing Philadelphia, Columbus hosts Sporting Kansas City, then visits D.C. United before closing out the season at home against Toronto. From the Columbus perspective, with two very tough opponents above them in the standings coming up next, the Crew's playoff hopes might well rest on getting a win against Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Statistically speaking, the Crew weren't much to look at most of the season. They've scored 36 and have conceded 37, both of which are in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Eddie Gaven (seven goals, two assists) leads them in scoring out of midfield, with Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, and Josh Williams working most matches on the backline. However, midseason acquisitions Federico Higuain (5 goals, 4 assists) and Jairo Arrieta (3 goals, 6 assists) have created an offensive revelation for the Crew. In fact, it can be argued that the biggest problem for Columbus over the past few weeks has been with opponents partially neutralizing Higuain by keeping him out wide, away from the goal. He's been kept away from the dangerous areas where his skills have really been shining. Defensively they've been solid, but at this point solid's not enough. If they're to beat out Houston for the #5 seed, Andy Gruenebaum has to steal a match or two. Perhaps most importantly, though, Robert Warzycha has to stick with a group of eleven. Union fans are all too familiar with the perils of a starting lineup that isn't stable from week to week, let alone month to month, and now is really not the time to be trying to build chemistry with a new combination of guys.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, was all about trying out new combinations in their past week. Philadelphia fans were waiting for a player like Josue Martinez to get a decent shot, and Hackworth finally obliged. Martinez scored on a slightly broken play as the Union dropped the Dynamo 3-1. Freddy Adu also gave Union fans his best showing in a while, scoring the Union's other two goals before leaving the match with an injury that he actually picked up while scoring. The Union managed to stave off mathematical eliminated from playoff contention, though realistically they've been out of it for a while, but the solid victory gives John Hackworth and company something to be genuinely happy about for the first time in several weeks. Martinez may very well get a few more opportunities before the season comes to a close to show how his development has progressed, and to earn increased playing time for the 2013 season.
Philadelphia: MacMath; G. Farfan, Valdes, Okugo, Williams; M. Farfan, Carroll, Lahoud, Adu; McInerney, Martinez
Columbus: Gruenebaum; Williams, James, Marshall, Miranda; Mirosevic, O'Rourke; Renteria, Higuain, Gaven; Arrieta
For Philadelphia, as of Tuesday, Danny Cruz was "doubtful" due to a left big toe sesamoid stress fracture and right calf strain (try saying that five times fast). Keon Daniel (right knee contusion), Freddy Adu (left quad strain), and Gabriel Farfan (right ankle contusion" were all "questionable". For the first time since what seems like the spring, rookie Krystian Witkowski is available for selection. Witkowski had been suffering from concussion symptoms, but is now finally cleared.
For Columbus, as of Tuesday, Tommy Heinemann (left knee surgery), Will Hesmer (right hip surgery), and Bernardo Anor (left knee ACL tear) were all out. Carlos Mendes (right hamstring strain) is "doubtful". Danny O'Rourke (left ankle sprain) is "questionable". Andy Gruenebaum (lower back stiffness) is "probable".
- Matthew Foerster is listed as tomorrow's match referee. Once again, the Union will be dealing with a referee just getting started in MLS. In five career MLS matches, Foerster has called an average of 23.8 fouls per match, handed out an average of 4.4 yellow cards per match, has yet to give out a red card, and has awarded two penalty kicks.
- Chris Birchall, Brian Carroll, Gabriel Gomez, and Danny O'Rourke are all one yellow card away from receiving an automatic one-match disciplinary suspension for yellow card accumulation.
- Tomorrow night will be the first time that former Crew member Brian Carroll has played at Columbus Crew Stadium since being traded from Columbus to Philadelphia. You'll recall that when the Union visited Columbus towards the tail end of last season, Carroll was injured in mid-week training and missed the match.
- Both of these teams like to concede late: 11 of Columbus's 37 conceded goals, and 10 of Philadelphia's 33, have come in the final fifteen minutes of matches.
- Interesting note: Freddy Adu's brace against Houston was his first two-goal match in MLS.
The Union continue to play the role of possible playoff spoiler as they visit the Crew, who are in desperate need of a win for their playoff hopes. We hope you can join us here tomorrow night for a gamethread!