Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
What: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew
When: 7:30PM EST
Where: Crew Stadium, Columbus, OH
TV: TCN (also: MLS Direct Kick, MLSLive)
Referee: Matthew Foerster. AR1 (bench): Adam Wienckowski; AR2 (opposite): Matthew Nelson; 4th: Abbey Okulaja. MLS Career: 5 games; FC/gm: 23.8; Y/gm: 4.4; R: 0; pens: 2
Last time the Union and Crew met, Philadelphia was looking to end a dismal August by riding the home crowd to a much-needed three points. Instead, the PPL Park faithful watched in horror as Eddie Gaven’s injury time winner ensured the Union narrative of pulling failure from the clutches of success continued.
Up a man and pressing for most of the second half, the Union craved the catharsis of a late winner. Exactly one month earlier, Jack McInerney had reinvigorated playoff hopes with a 90th minute header. Losses to Montreal and Chicago followed. Impotent ties against Real Salt Lake and DC United piled on the pressure. And, looking back, Gaven’s late winner took the final breeze from this young team’s sails. They would score one goal over the next three matches before a combination of stingy defense and Freddy Adu’s finishing subdued Houston this past week.
Was there a spark?
Yes, there was. But while Adu’s name dominates the box score, Eli correctly pointed out that it was the back four who pushed the car forward when the guys with the keys stalled it out.
The standout performer was Ray Gaddis. He is a man who plays at one speed, and that speed seems faster every match. The GadFly appears to be one of the only players who was immune to Peter Nowak’s controlling ways. Instead of playing with the hesitancy that has become the hallmark of the Union offensive system, Gaddis pushes forward in the face of uncertain odds and succeeds more than he fails.
We are young
The Union’s only clear advantage over almost every team they play is youth. Beyond denoting age, youth encompasses things like endurance, brashness, and a confidence borne from unknown – and unsought – limits.
While it is often said that young players learn by getting minutes on the pitch, that should not be the case. Young players learn after their minutes on the pitch. They watch tape, listen to coaches, and they go out the next time and do it better. Players who learn on the pitch end up looking like the 2012 Philadelphia Union. They are trying to fix mistakes on the fly, they’re trying to figure out what the perfect play would be, instead of making the play they are most confident they can complete. In-game learning kills confidence. You are bound to dwell on your mistakes, to take an extra touch, to overthink in front of goal…
Sound like any team you know?
Amobi Okugo and Ray Gaddis have played with the blind confidence of players who trust in their skill during games, and trust in their coaches and their own minds to improve their play between matches. The blessing of youth is that you may rely on your athleticism to make up for your faults, just as the blessing of age is that you may outsmart a brash, young opponent. The best players strike a balance. The Union denies the young guns the opportunity to make cocky mistakes at the peril of their future development.
Six points out of five September games was not what the Crew had in mind. Winning at PPL Park was supposed to jumpstart their season. It almost had to: As the only road win of the Crew’s season, what more could the team hope for? A home victory over playoff rivals Montreal followed, but a devastating loss at New England signalled that Columbus’ hopes for the postseason would ride on home form alone.
With three of their last four matches at Crew Park – two against Philly and Toronto – playoff hopes remain high in Ohio.
Score two and the game goes to blue
The Crew defense has been shaky but effective all season. Two shutouts since June is not a good record to stand on, but on their home turf they find a way to get the job done. If the Union can notch two goals on Columbus, they will walk out with at least a point. I know: It’s a big ask.
But two goals suggests something further about the Union’s style of play on Saturday. Namely, it supports the idea of forcing Federico Higuain to make his own meals. The Columbus playmaker can produce magic, as he did in his visit to Philly, but the Union can make it tougher by making him chase the ball. Higuain’s workrate is top shelf, but he will get sucked into the midfield trying to create.
And that’s fine. At this point, the Union have to trust Okugo and Carlos Valdes to handle any single striker on their own. Keeping Higuain in front of Brian Carroll is the best defensive tactic possible. Thus, the Union must push the ball when they have it.
Asking Carroll to become a big part of the offense leaves holes in the defensive shape. The players in front of BC7: Martinez, McInerney, Adu (if healthy), Marfan, Daniel, Lahoud, or anyone else, have to move the ball forward and relieve Carroll of his duties as transitional axis of play.
How to view the game
Columbus doesn’t like to venture out of Ohio. So when visitors come to town, they buckle down and make sure they secure maximum points. Walking, chests out, into Crew Park and leaving, heads high, with even a single point will speak volumes for Philadelphia’s young team. Finally, they are in a position where they don’t have to go out and push for three points. The playoffs are out.
But the Crew need those points. And they will be pushing. Believe it or not, Philly can see themselves as the big dogs. The Crew have to knock them off if they want their season to continue.
Finally, the Union are in a position of power. Let’s see how they respond.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, Williams
- MID: Marfan, Carroll, Gomez, Garfan
- FWD: Martinez, Hoffman
- GK: Gruenebaum
- DEF: Miranda, Marshall, James, Williams
- MID: Gaven, O’Rourke, Mirosevic, Renteria, Higuain
- FWD: Arrieta
- OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms); DF Bakary Soumare (R knee surgery);
- DOUBTFUL: MF Danny Cruz (L sesamoid stress fracture/R calf strain)
- QUESTIONABLE: MF Keon Daniel (R knee contusion); MF Freddy Adu (L quad strain); DF Gabriel Farfan (R ankle contusion)
- OUT: FW Tommy Heinemann (L knee surgery); GK William Hesmer (R hip surgery); MF Bernardo Anor (L knee ACL tear)
- DOUBTFUL: DF Carlos Mendes (R hamstring strain)
- QUESTIONABLE: MF Danny O’Rourke (L ankle sprain)
- PROBABLE: GK Andy Gruenebaum (lower back stiffness)
Suspended next yellow
- In two previous meetings in Columbus, the Union are 0-2 and have been outscored 5-2.
- The Crew have not scored an own goal this season.
- Columbus has scored 10 times from outside the penalty area. The Union have scored twice from that distance.
- Philly is 1-11-2 when giving up the first goal. However, they have not lost when leading at halftime (5-0-1).
- The Union have lost 9 of 16 games when they have entered the half tied.