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Match preview: Columbus Crew SC vs. Philadelphia Union

The Union head to Ohio to face the Crew in the first of back-to-back meetings between the clubs.

Philadelphia Union vs New England Revolution Trey Madara / Brotherly Game

Game: Columbus Crew SC vs. Philadelphia Union

Date: Saturday, July 22nd

Time: 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 6:30 p.m. Central, 4:30 p.m. Pacific, 11:30 p.m. UTC

Venue: MAPFRE Stadium (Columbus, Ohio)

Referees: REF: SILVIU PETRESCU AR1: Philippe Briere AR2: Eric Boria 4TH: Fotis Bazakos

Television: The Comcast Network (Philadelphia area), CW Columbus, Spectrum Sports Ohio, BCSN 2 (Columbus area)

Streaming: MLS Live

All-time record:

The Union have won seven, lost ten, and drawn just one match against Columbus. In their last meeting, the Union won 2-1 in Columbus thanks to goals from Fabian Herbers and Keegan Rosenberry.

What Columbus will look like

Columbus should be well rested without having played a league match since July 4th, and at full strength for the most part. The club has no players on international duty at the Gold Cup or elsewhere, and no current injuries to speak of (Gaston Sauro and Ben Swanson are out for the season but were injured a while ago). Coach Gregg Berhalter usually uses a 4-2-3-1 lineup, although in their last match against Minnesota United it was more of a 3-4-3. Former Philadelphia Union youth player Zach Steffen will be in goal for the Crew.

Columbus has conceded 32 goals this season, the sixth most in the league, and its 1-0 win against Minnesota United the last time out was its first shutout since late May. With Federico Higuain, Kekuta Manneh, Justin Meram and Ola Kamara all in the side, Columbus will look to be the aggressors at home and take the game to the Union. Higuain and Meram are the 14th and 15th ranked players in the MLS according to the Audi Player index, with nine goals for Higuain and six assists for Meram.

Rookies Lalas Abubakar and Alex Crognale are part of the Crew’s weak back line, but were impressive against Minnesota. If they can put out the fires left in the gaps created when the rest of the team goes forward, Columbus should be in business.

What Philadelphia will look like

The Union are still without goalkeeper Andre Blake and midfielder Chris Pontius who are on international duty and into the Gold Cup semifinals. Alejandro Bedoya will return to the squad after the birth of his second child and his stint with the USMNT. Jim Curtin’s side will have the tough task of playing two matches in four days on the road after a disappointing performance in a 2-1 loss at Montreal on Wednesday.

Goalkeeper John McCarthy should be back in net and Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, Giliano Wijnaldum and Ray Gaddis could man the back line with some potential squad rotations. Elliott and Wijnaldum were eviscerated on the Impact’s second goal, and Wijnaldum particularly had a poor night at the Stade Saputo.

Having Bedoya and Medunjanin back will help to anchor the central midfield, but they will need better performances from Ilsinho and Roland Alberg, who did not create much on Wednesday, despite Alberg having a goal disallowed on a tight offsides call.

Fafa Picault was a threat the entire night against Montreal and grabbed a goal for his work, but probably should have had a few more. He and striker CJ Sapong should have at least few chances on the counter against the Crew and Picault’s pace could be a real difference maker in space. If Picault is unable to play with injury, Sapong may have to play outside with Jay Simpson up top, robbing the Union of its dynamism.

What to expect

At home and rested against a stale Union side, the Crew look like the favorites and will certainly have better attacking talent on the pitch. Sapong is due for a goal after last scoring against New England, and Bedoya’s return could stabilize the Philadelphia midfield. A point on the road would be a great result for the Union, and not out of reach with some inspired defending.

If the Union can neutralize the Crew’s attacking players and get some creativity on the wings without the first choice players there, it could take advantage of a suspect backline and get a positive result. Otherwise, it could be a long night and a frustrating wait until the reverse fixture at Talen Energy Stadium on Wednesday.