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Match #28 Preview: Philadelphia Union Vs. Columbus Crew

COLUMBUS, OH - AUGUST 20:  Emilio Renteria #20 of the Columbus Crew celebrates his first half goal against the Philadelphia Union on August 20, 2011 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.   (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - AUGUST 20: Emilio Renteria #20 of the Columbus Crew celebrates his first half goal against the Philadelphia Union on August 20, 2011 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Setting: Saturday, September 17 at PPL Park in Chester; kickoff scheduled for 7:36:30 PM Eastern.

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

Columbus's Record: 11-9-8, first in East

Columbus's Last Match: T, 2-2 vs. Houston

Philadelphia vs. Columbus This Season: 0-1-0 (Philadelphia 1 @ Columbus 2 on August 20)

After a somewhat disappointing scoreless home draw against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, the Philadelphia Union welcome in the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew in an absolutely vital match for both sides. The Crew lead the Union by five points in the standings, but Philadelphia has one match in hand. Columbus has hit a bit of a rough patch lately, going winless in their last three (of course, Philadelphia is winless in their last eight in MLS competition), and entering PPL Park on the backside of a stretch with three matches in eight nights. They lost last weekend at home to last-place Toronto in rather resounding fashion, and conceded a late equalizer while hosting the ten-men Houston Dynamo on Wednesday.

A Union victory would assure that they keep pace with other East leaders Sporting KC, who are visiting Real Salt Lake, Houston, who host San Jose, and DC United, who are in Seattle. It would also be a major mental breakthrough for the Union. They have appeared to be on the upswing in their past two performances, but with no victory to show for either, it's hard take solace at a time in the season where the standings get tighter and tighter with the passing of every week. Manager Piotr Nowak has said multiple times over the past six weeks that the team appears to be lacking that "killer instinct" to go above and beyond the run of play, and cash in. Their performance against New England showed that they aren't lacking it, but their performance against Portland proved that it's hard for this team to bring it out on a consistent basis.

Something that the Union can take comfort in is the play of rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who earned a clean sheet against the Timbers after showing a rather unrepresentative four goals against in his first career MLS start. He seems to have his bearings and, most importantly, the play in front of him is becoming consistent. Having the last several days to practice can only help MacMath and his defense learn about each other, particularly about when MacMath will come off his line to try and smother the ball, when he won't, and how he likes to have things organized in front of him. The Crew bring a large offensive threat, though they're missing several pieces to injury and suspension, and it will be another challenging ninety minutes for MacMath and the backline.

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

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: MacMath; G. Farfan, Valdes, Califf (C), Williams; Carroll; Le Toux, Adu, Torres; Mwanga, Paunovic

Columbus: Hesmer; Francis, James, Marshall, Miranda; Burns; Rogers, O'Rourke, Duka; Mendoza, Heinemann

Injury updates:

For Philadelphia, Faryd Mondragon remains out as he recovers from a fractured right ring finger, as is Levi Houapeu, who is now on injured reserve as he rehabs his left ankle. Justin Mapp is listed as "doubtful" due to a left quad strain, while Veljko Paunovic and Sebastien Le Toux are both considered "probable" despite a left calf strain and an left hip pointer, respectively. Keon Daniel, as we've been following on the Brotherly Game, is not with the team at the moment due to visa problems.

For Columbus, Toni Tchani, Eddie Gaven and Emilio Renteria are unavailable due to right knee surgery, a right lower leg contusion and a concussion, respectively. Bernardo Anor is listed as "doubtful" due to a right ankle sprain, while Andy Gruenebaum and Alex Riggs are considered "questionable" thanks to a right thumb fracture and a concussion, respectively. Emmanuel Ekpo is not available for tomorrow's match as he serves a one-match disciplinary suspension for a red card received in Houston on Wednesday. The status Chad Marshall, who had to leave Wednesday's match with what appeared to be a hip injury, is unclear, though he was not listed on the club's injury report.

Of note:

  • Alex Prus is listed as tomorrow night's match referee. In 187 career MLS matches, Prus has called for an average of between 27 and 28 fouls per match, handed out an average of around three yellow cards per match, given a total of 42 red cards and has awarded a total of 50 penalty kicks.
  • Kevin Burns, Danny Califf and Sebastian Miranda are all one yellow card away from receiving an automatic one-match disciplinary suspension for accumulation of yellow cards.
  • The Crew are 8-0-0 when scoring first. Not only do they not lose, but they keep all three points when they take the opening goal. They are also 3-0-0 when leading at halftime.
  • Both teams have scored 11 of their 35 goals in the final fifteen minutes of matches.
  • The Crew have not shutout another team in MLS play in six matches, and have actually conceded 12 goals in their last three matches.
  • Columbus has come out victorious all three times that these two teams have met each other, and that is the most important statistic of all.
Union color analyst Taylor Twellman has called tomorrow night's match the biggest in club history. Whether that's true or not remains to be seen, and likely depends on the result. The Union look to stay above the riffraff of MLS wild card competition in the standings, while Columbus will try to make a major statement about not just their side, but Philadelphia as well. There's a lot on the line for the Union, and really for the entire Eastern Conference, so we hope that if you're not heading down to PPL Park for tomorrow's match, that you'll join us here for a gamethread!