The Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew haven’t seen each other since the season opener back in April. How has Columbus changed their game since then, and what will the Union see on the second game out of the international break?
I wouldn’t say much has changed since the first meeting. The Crew is starting to get healthier, but this team was pretty healthy when meeting the Union to start the year. The biggest thing would be that offseason signing Kevin Molino made his debut on Saturday after dealing with hamstring issues. While he’s not back to full fitness and isn’t likely to start, it’s a step in the right direction and could give Columbus a boost off the bench offensively.
The only other difference, which has only occurred in the last two games, is Pedro Santos moving from his winger position to left-back. While he’s played well, Milton Valenzuela is still the first-choice player at the spot for the Black & Gold and he is no longer out. Santos could still start there on Wednesday, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Caleb Porter goes back to Valenzuela or Waylon Francis with the quick turnaround.
Columbus has had a pretty mild schedule thus far into the season (outside of Philly and New England). How do they compete differently against better teams and worse teams?
Like Philly, the Crew generally doesn’t change too much regardless of opponent. There are some smaller tactical tweaks, but for the most part, Porter wants his team to play the same way no matter who’s on the other side or where the game is located. It’s generally about figuring out how, within the team’s game, they can attack the opposition. I expect Porter to handle things similarly against the Union as he has in recent meetings.
When we last talked, you highlighted the Crew’s defensive strength. Thus far, they’ve earned a respectable three shutouts in nine MLS matches. Where has their defensive struggle been, and where have they been able to push their opponents’ offense back?
Injuries have been the biggest issue for Columbus this season and that includes on the defensive side. I believe each of the Crew’s top seven defenders have missed time with either an injury suffered this year or recovering from an injury from last year. It’s made it hard to have the same kind of continuity as the group did last season. When the team has been healthy, it’s been pretty good, although there have been lapses at times (specifically against Toronto FC), which are hard to explain.
I will also say that the way the schedule has played out hasn’t helped much either. For the first several weeks, the team didn’t have a lot of practice time with MLS and CCL games. With this week as the exception, that has changed of late and I think the defense (and the offense, frankly) has been better.
Score predictions, lineups, injuries, etc.?
This will be a difficult one for the Crew, as all of the recent games against the Union have been. I said 0-0 on our podcast this week, so I’ll stick with that.
As for injuries, Artur, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Aidan Morris are out, while Luis Diaz, Perry Kitchen and Milton Valenzuela are questionable.
A lineup is a little difficult to predict, but I’ll go with:
Harrison Afful - Jonathan Mensah - Vito Wormgoor - Waylon Francis
Perry Kitchen - Darlington Nagbe
Derrick Etienne - Lucas Zelarayan - Pedro Santos