Game: Philadelphia Union vs. Columbus Crew
Date: Wednesday, June 3rd
Time: 7:00 PM
Venue: PPL Park
Television: The Comcast Network
What Columbus Will Look Like
Columbus has won just once in the five matches since they last played Union, back on April 25th. Like Philadelphia, the Crew are coming off of a match where they dropped points late. Former Union player Pedro Ribeiro rifled a shot past Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark to draw Orlando City even at two each in the 89th minute. The silver lining to that deflating result is that Columbus had gone down a man in the 17th minute, when defender and captain Michael Parkhurst picked up a red card for "Denying the Opposing Team a Goal by Handling" and will miss this match as a result. Columbus fought back though, and re-took the lead in the 60th minute. Playing 73+ minutes down a player on the road is a difficult task, which Columbus handled very well.
They'll be happy to visit Chester this week, as they've won their last four meetings with the Union (two at home, two away). They have a potent offense, which has scored the fourth-most goals in the league so far this season. Forward Kei Kamara has ten goals on the season to lead the league, and right wing-midfielder Ethan Finlay is tied with Sporting Kansas City's Benny Feilhaber for the league lead with seven assists. Finlay scored his only two goals of the season against the Union. Columbus use a 4-2-3-1 just like Philadelphia does, with Kamara up top, and Federico Higuain centering Finlay and Justin Meram. Their defense will be tested in the absence of their Parkhurst, but Tyson Wahl started last match and Emanuel Pogatetz is a capable replacement.
Kamara is playing verywell right now. He is winning aerial battles, as he did to score last match versus Orlando City, and is moving well off the ball, as he did when he netted against Philly. The Union started Maurice Edu and Steven Vitoria five weeks ago and they did not fare well. Richie Marquez is partnering Edu during Vitoria's injury, but it may not matter who is back there against this attack right now. The Crew's wings have speed and Federico Higuain has the craftiness to break down whomever Jim Curtin selects for his back line.
What Philadelphia Will Look Like
The good news for Union fans is while Columbus has a very good offense, they've also allowed the second most goals of any team on the season. Also, the Union didn't have Fernando Aristeguieta, Vincent Nogueira, or Zach Pfeffer available for their prior meeting with the Crew. Pfeffer will look to redeem himself after his unfortunate handball led to D.C. United's winning goal. Having Nogueira back is huge considering the Crew had 61% of the ball in the April matchup. He and Brian Carroll have played well together, so I'd expect them to keep that together for better possession. The only factor here is if Vitoria is fit to play, that may move Edu back to the midfield. Something else to think about is that Carroll has played the full 90 each of the last three matches, and Union host New York City FC on Saturday.
I'd like to see CJ Sapong or Pfeffer get a start on a wing, but I think Curtin will stick with Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux after they combined for a goal last match. It could turn Union's fortunes around if those two could become consistent contributors. Even if they don't start, both Zach and CJ could be very important substitutes. Eric Ayuk was their only available "change-of-pace" player from the bench last meeting. I'd expect the game plan to involve attacking the central defenders with 'Nando dropping into the midfield and allowing wingers to make diagonal runs in from behind. Fabinho has had a good run of form lately, and his crossing ability could be a key asset in unlocking the Columbus defense.
What to Expect
Mother Nature is expected to give the region a brief respite Wednesday night as the temperature are expected to be about 67 degrees with 5% chance of rain at kickoff. Familiarity will be a factor, having already played each other this season. I expect Union to be able to give Columbus a different look from the returned players who didn't play last match, but the defense is still primarily the same. I'd expect a goal from each team in each half.
Prediction: Crew 2, Union 2.