Hoping for their first win of the 2012 MLS season, the Philadelphia Union will take on the Columbus Crew at PPL Park (3:30) on Saturday afternoon. Philly is 0-3-1 (one point) through their first four games of the opening season, while the Crew is 2-2-0 (six points). The game will be on NBC Sports Network.
Columbus is coming off a 4-1 bashing from the horns of the New York Red Bulls on April 7th. Philadelphia had a bye-week last week. Their most recent game was at home on March 31st against the Vancouver Whitecaps, which ended in a 0-0 draw.
The starting XI for the Crew will likely change in a couple positions after having remained the same for their previous two games. Danny O'Rourke is listed as questionable, but he is still the most probable replacement for Eric Gehrig in center defense. After a Man of the Match performance against Toronto two weeks ago, Gehrig was out-muscled and out-maneuvered by the Red Bulls' powerful offense on Saturday.
Even though he picked up two assists in the Crew's reserve match last weekend, left-back Nemanja Vukovic is still stuck behind Shaun Francis. Francis, known primarily for his speed, was out-paced by Dane Richards last week. I'm interested to see Vukovic go up against MLS competition, but we will probably have to wait at least another week to witness that.
On the wings, any combination of Eddie Gaven / Ethan Finlay / Dilly Duka / and Bernardo Anor could be used. Being the steady veteran that he is, Gaven has the best chance of starting, even though he has struggled so far in this young season. Both Finlay and Duka came on as substitutes in Columbus' loss last week, immediately making positive impacts. However, Duka is still nursing a hamstring injury. It's plausible that Finlay will start and later be replaced by Duka. Anor hasn't impressed in the past two games, as he hasn't created much offense (even though scoring once) and has been giving the ball away just a little too much.
Meanwhile, things are quite rough in Philadelphia. Head coach Peter Nowak's handling of the past off-season has been scrutinized by most Union fans. Gone is leading scorer Sebastian Le Teux and experienced goalie Faryd Mondragon, leaving Philly currently in second to last place. New striker Lionard Pajoy has only scored one of the Union's two goals. However, former teenage sensation Freddy Adu has upped his level of play over the last year and could be one of the more dangerous threats against the Crew.
Prediction after the jump...Prediction: Crew 1-1 Union
Both teams are currently having trouble scoring, so don't plan on this one to be a shootout. The Union will have home-field advantage, and, after an extremely sub-par performance from Columbus their last time out, any outcome that ends with the Crew returning with point(s) will be favorable. Expect a scrappy Crew goal, either on a bad defensive play or a set piece.