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Preview: Union play for pride on the road against the Crew in season finale

Let's finally put this miserable season to bed.

Zac MacMath looking  like he's fed up.  Or at least he should be.
Zac MacMath looking like he's fed up. Or at least he should be.
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The Union travel to Columbus for a game less meaningful than a Harrisburg City Islanders friendly.

The Union play the Crew on Sunday because the schedule says so (and for absolutely no other reason).

Enjoy your last 90 minutes of goalkeeper intrigue, Philadelphia!

It's difficult to preview the Union's final match Sunday in Columbus without recognizing the giant elephant in the room: the stakes of the match couldn't possibly be any lower.  The Union were eliminated by Columbus (and New York) two weeks ago in a 3-2 heartbreaker at PPL Park, and Sunday's match is the calm before the tidal wave of offseason questions, changes, and accusations following a disappointing season where home attendance fell seven percent from the previous season.  Still-interim head coach Jim Curtin has been resolute in his desire to field the best team the Union can possibly provide, which likely means another match where the Homegrown Players (Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Cristhian Hernandez) will be prevented from adding minutes to their already woefully low career tallies.

Meanwhile, the Crew will be playing in the MLS Cup next week no matter what happens Saturday.  A win could catapult Columbus into the third spot into the East, avoiding the Conference knockout round taking place next week.    After going down 2-0 late to the Union, the Crew have been playing lights out ever since.  Three unanswered goals in five minutes at PPL Park were followed by a resounding 3-1 road win against the playoff-bound New York Red Bulls.  Unlike two weeks the Union will have to deal with Argentine playmaker Federico Higuain.  Former Austrian international Emanuel Pogatetz, who played 45 minutes in the Red Bulls win last week, may also start for the first time in a Crew shirt.

Tasked with keeping Higuain in check will likely be Amobi Okugo.  There's a strong possibility that Okugo may depart to Europe during the winter, and it should be one of the Union's primary offseason goals to keep him in blue and gold at a reasonable price.  Ever since John Hackworth freed him from Peter Nowak's personal dungeon two years ago, Okugo has consistently been one of the best players for the Union.  He's a future candidate for team captain now that Brian Carroll's career is nearing its natural end.  Re-signing Amobi also relieves the Union from having to resign Maurice Edu at an even higher cost (since he'd likely be captain if he returns) than what he's earning right now.  If Vincent Nogueira sits on the bench on Saturday to nurse his ankle, expect to see both Okugo and Edu in the midfield.  We could also see Brian Carroll play his final match if Carlos Valdes sits out and Mo is chosen to start at centerback.  That's a viable option given the offensive proclivity of the Crew's midfield with Higuain, Ethan Finlay, and Will Trapp.

Barring a miracle, Sunday will be Zac MacMath's final match with the Union.  MacMath has had his ups and downs between the pipes, but despite his shortcomings he's given a raw deal by the Union front office.  Just like last year, Zac's play has improved as the season has progressed.  He's still not good enough to be considered a top MLS goalkeeper just yet, but displacing him as the starter should've never been a priority this season.  Drafting Andre Blake was a surprise but perfectly reasonable given Blake's potential and the need for a backup.  However, the signing of Algerian World Cup goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi (not to mention Nick Sakiewicz's admission that he thought young goalkeepers can't be trusted) was the ultimate insult.  It also made trading MacMath during the season impossible given the loss of leverage.  Now the Union likely stand to lose the 23 year old for nothing in the expansion draft.  Here's hoping MacMath can muster another clean sheet this weekend and find a home this winter that won't jerk him around so often.

Jim Curtin, and whoever figures to stay in charge in the new year, needs to use this match to evaluate the young players and players whose future need deciding this offseason.    As for the result, well I don't foresee this ending very positively.  Columbus will be pressing for three points at home, and both times this season the Union's defense has wilted under the pressure of the high-powered attack.  That was when this season still held some meaning for the club.  Just imagine what happens when the Union play for little more than pride.

Prediction: Columbus Crew 4, Philadelphia Union 1