Date: Wednesday, August 24
Time: 7:30 PM EST
Venue: MAPFRE Stadium - Columbus, OH
Television: MLS LIVE, The Comcast Network, TWCSC-OH, CW Columbus
Streaming: MLS Direct Kick, MLS Live
All-time record: The Union are 6-10-1 all time against the Crew, with two of those wins coming this season. They won 3-2 on June 1st at Talen Energy Stadium, and back on March 12th in Columbus, Union were victorious 2-1. That match is their lone win in Columbus, to go with six defeats and one draw. They’ll be looking to take all nine points from the season series, and solidify themselves in the Eastern Conference’s top six.
What Columbus Crew SC will look like: The Crew are not having a good season. Even Ola Kamara hasn’t helped much, as they are 2-4-8 since the Norwegian striker was acquired. Both of those wins have come in matches immediately preceding playing Philadelphia.
Columbus is still without starting centerback Gaston Sauro, who is recovering from his PCL tear. It was another Norwegian, Nicolai Naess, who started last match next to captain Michael Parkhurst. The defending, though desperate at times, was better than it has been. Hector Jimenez has played outside back on both sides of the formation, while Harrison Afful or Waylon Francis will man the other side.Their strength, like Union, is their 5-man midfield. The familiar faces of Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, and Ethan Finlay are the attacking verve, with Mohammed Saeid and Wil Trapp in the holding roles.
What the Philadelphia Union will look like: The lineup that fared so well two Saturdays ago against New England, was ripped to shreds by Toronto. The Union enter Wednesday's match on just three days rest, and have Sporting Kansas City at home this Saturday. Managing minutes is crucial over the course of a season, but the Union are just 1-3-1 in their last five matches. Jim Curtin is not big into change, and without many viable bench options, expect to see Alejandro Bedoya and Warren Creavalle start. Tranquillo Barnetta should be the #10 in front of them, and leading scorer Chris Pontius will line up on the left. Ilsinho has been entrenched as the starting right wing, but maybe the short week gives Fabian Herbers a shot there. Curtin may also opt to rest CJ Sapong, as both Herbers and Charlie Davies could fill in up top. The other question is whether or not Ken Tribbett gets another chance in the starting lineup. He was pulled after 45 minutes Saturday against Toronto FC in favor of Joshua Yaro.
Expect this group to focus on working through the Bedoya-Barnetta connection. Ale has been a good link for his defenders to transition forward. As his chemistry with the Union’s #10 grows, so will the fluidity of the entire team. They'll use their lone forward as their pivot, with wingers doing the running off the flanks. The Union use their fullbacks Keegan Rosenberry and Fabinho for crosses from out wide as their width since Ilsinho and Pontius cut inside a bunch.
What to expect: Columbus are strong in attack with Meram, Higuain, and Finlay supporting Ola Kamara. They are desperate to overcome their current table position, having just four wins on the season. The Crew are defending Eastern Conference champions, so expect them to play hard in front of their home crowd. These teams play very similarly, in that they employ the same formation, and look to press opposition defenders with their forwards.
Columbus is five points behind a playoff spot, but have 11 matches left to play. The Union, despite not being in their best form, are still fourth, but need points to stay there in their congested conference. I expect Columbus to come out and get after the Union right from the opening whistle. They can’t be happy about losing to them twice already this season, and they could be buoyed by their win Saturday against New England. The Union have had defensive issues for a good portion of this season, so Columbus could be smelling the proverbial “blood in the water.” The Union need to address that backline, so it wouldn’t shock me if they not extend themselves forward a bunch early. They may elect to keep Rosenberry and Fabinho back so to limit the space their center halves have to cover for. If that’s the case, then they’ll bunker and look to spring Barnetta, Pontius, and Sapong (or whomever starts at forward) quickly and not worry about the pretense of setting a play up.