Game: Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union
Date: Saturday, April 25th
Time: 7:30 PM
Venue: MAPFRE Stadium
Television: The Comcast Network
Saturday night will be a meeting of two clubs trending in opposite directions. Philadelphia Union's last 3 matches resulted in a win, then a draw, then a loss. Meanwhile, Columbus Crew's last 4 have been a loss, draw, another draw, then a win. Columbus at home, which is still Crew Stadium, just renamed MAPFRE Stadium, have two wins, one loss, and zero draws. Last season, Crew won all three matchups against Philadelphia, including the heartbreaking, and season-breaking, defeat 3-2. Union were up 2-0 in that match, then Crew scored in the 78th, 80th, and 83rd minutes to rip the still-beating heart figuratively out of the collective chest of the Union faithful.
This weekend will be a test of Union's 2015-version heart. Can they overcome their defensive lapses and personnel changes, and maintain control of a match when ahead? Will they let the deflating nature of their short-comings pervade their psyche in the next match? Can they get back to the free-flowing offensive soccer we saw during the team's mid-year run to the US Open Cup final?
What Columbus Will Look Like
Columbus have real quality leading the line with Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain. Along with Justin Meram, this team has good speed, quickness, and organization in attack, which will make it quite difficult for Philadelphia, who have had their defense victimized all season so far. Kamara has 4 goals on the season, and right wing midfielder Ethan Finley has 3 assists.
Look for Higuain to be the focus of everything Columbus does going forward. He has excellent passing acumen, as well as keen off-the-ball movement, which make him also a threat to score, himself. Crew have the trust to go forward due to their solid back line, especially center backs Michael Parkhurst and Emanuel Pogatetz. I'd expect them to be able to bottle up Union striker Fernando Aristeguieta with little issue.
What Philadelphia Will Look Like
Jim Curtin said during his presser this week that Vincent Nogueira will be out with an ankle injury, and that both Cristian Maidana and CJ Sapong are still working back to full fitness, thus they likely won't get 90 minutes just yet. With Zach Pfeffer away with the US U-20 National Team, Philly is bereft of creative attacking talent in the midfield beyond Chaco. Columbus is another team that plays with 5 midfielders, so I'd expect Union to do the same.
Last week, the lone goal from the Blue-and-Gold came via a free kick from Maidana. Otherwise, Union looked fairly unthreatening. I'd expect Eric Ayuk to go back to the starting XI after having Sunday off, keeping the ineffective Andrew Wenger on the bench. Sebastien Le Toux and Chaco will round out the attacking midfield, with Mike Lahoud and former Crew player Brian Carroll manning the holding roles. The tough weather conditions will likely prompt a conservative lineup, looking to be stout and disciplined in front of young John McCarthy.
What to Expect
Union have more questions than answers right now with what their best lineup is. Columbus is a difficult place to play through the air because of the prevalent wind. Add to that the weather expectation of temperatures near 40 degrees with rain. If Maidana is not fully fit for 90 minutes, Union will likely resort to aerial crosses which will find them frustrated. Crew will take their confidence from last week and exploit Union on the counter and coast to victory.
Prediction: Crew 1, Union 0.