Match Previews

Columbus Crew SC vs. Philadelphia Union: Crew return home

MLS | MAPFRE Stadium | Saturday, March 12 | 7:30 p.m. ET

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Columbus Crew vs Philadelphia Union preview

Billed as

“Will a wound-up Crew show any flaws against an Edu-less Union?”

The lowdown

Both teams lost in Week 1, but that does not mean that these two teams are going to be playing two-man leapfrog all season. Whereas Philadelphia has come to find the bottom of the standings as their usual resting place, Columbus Crew SC has not. The Crew have high aspirations this year and an opening-day loss to their MLS Cup final nemesis Portland Timbers is only going to fire them up more.

The Crew maintained the gross majority of possession against the Timbers, but they couldn’t keep out that potent attack, as Diego Valeri, Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe utilized that trifecta of excellence that took MLS by storm last year. With their hideously flamboyant kits in full view, the Crew spent most of their time on the ball, trying to break down Portland’s prideful backs, but that, too, proved futile, as it took a magnificent bicycle kick from Federico Higuain to finally deliver a gut-punch to the home side.

But that gut-punch did not amount to much, as Portland wasted no time in crushing the Crew’s clawing attempt at revenge.

The Crew are going to be excited to return home and face a floundering Union side. Their hopes will be boosted by the fact that the main man that plagued the Union in Week 1, Mauro Diaz, plays the very same position in a very similar way as the Crew’s own No. 10, the bicycler himself, Higuain.

But that doesn’t mean the Union are pushovers, not by a long shot. Against FC Dallas, the Union looked like decently strong competitors. They went toe-to-toe with their Texas opposition in possession and weren’t outmatched much in shots or passing. It was just a matter of individual quality for Dallas. They made more out of the possession they have, whereas the Union were plagued by a lack of finishing ability. The Union were also bailed out on numerous occasions by Andre Blake, who kept the score respectable.

Philadelphia would love to take some sort of points back to their home-opener next week, but it won’t be easy. They will be hoping to see a lot more out of Chris Pontius, who failed to create a single chance or hit a shot on goal against Dallas.

Team news

The Union will continue to have to get by without captain Maurice Edu, whose stress fracture is going to keep him out for up to four months. His defensive presence and experience from his time in the Premier League is going to be a noticeable void in the squad. Against Dallas, they turned to Vincent Nogueira and Brian Carroll, neither of whom proved capable of dealing with the probing passes of Diaz.

Tranquillo Barnetta is still turning up on the injury list with osteoarthritis after his shock no-show in the opener. Barnetta has a history of injury problems, though the Union will be hoping to buck that history and get Barnetta to achieve what they acquired him for.

Fourth-round pick Cole Missimo is dealing with a left calf strain and may miss inclusion. Philadelphia had beefed up their midfield from last year but with the three midfield injuries, they are a bit thin on troops.

Elsewhere, Matt Jones is on the injury report, but with Blake’s superb showing, that should not be too much of a burden on the Union.

On Columbus’ side, only Ola Kamara is dealing with a knock. His right thigh kept him off the roster against Portland and he is resting securely in the limbo of the “questionable” status going into the match against the Union.

Player to watch: Kei Kamara

Nobody plagued the Union more than Mauro Diaz and given that the Crew run with the exact same formation with an equally prolific No. 10, Philly is not in for a let off with Higuain.

However, it is Kamara that is the man to watch. When you tie for the most goals in MLS last year, you expect to score, and Kamara was left frustrated against Portland despite numerous chances. However, coach Gregg Berhalter is keenly aware that not scoring in the opener could potentially be a good thing in the long run.

“Sometimes you need that adversity, especially early on. I think it’s good for him to be in these positions and get chances and maybe not succeed right away. Obviously, we want him to score all the time. But it’s not necessarily a harmful thing for that to happen.”

Kamara has a keen eye for clutch goals and he was undoubtedly wound up by missing so many chances against Portland. Philadephia’s back line struggled with the Diaz-Maximiliano Urruti supply line. They will find the Higuain-Kamara line just as deadly, if not more so.

The managers

Crew coach Gregg Berhalter’s steely resolve was barely fazed by his team’s loss to Portland. However, returning to MAPFRE to face the Union, a win is not only expected, it is pretty much required. Berhalter will be firing up his troops for the match, particularly the aforementioned attacking duo.

Curtin is responsible for a new era in Philadelphia. In that era, he has seen the team to two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open finals, winning the latest. That is a good start to a new era, but at some point, he is going to have to get Philly back into MLS Cup relevance, and that all starts with achieving the tough task of going into playoff-titans’ houses, like the Crews, and talking points.

Facts and figures

  • Both the Union and the Crew suffered through terrible shooting accuracy in week one, with the Crew only hitting four of their 19 shots on target and the Union firing just two of 12 on target.
  • As well as having poor shot accuracy, both teams also dealt with a team that did the opposite, as both keepers were incredibly busy. Andre Blake saved 8/10 shots and Steve Clark saved 6/8.
  • Although they were separated by 16 points in the standings last season, the Union only surrendered two more goals than the Crew.
  • Kei Kamara only had four goalless streaks reach two games last season.

FourFourTwo prediction

They may have the same points after one week, but the Crew are going to be wound up from the loss in Portland and the Union are biding their time until a return to Philadelphia. The Crew should handle this match with a composure that only Edu could upset. Crew will take this one 2-0.