The Columbus Crew and the Philadelphia Union haven't seen each other since the second game of the year for the Black and Gold. The Crew won the first meeting 2-1 at home, but neither team is the same as they were then. Both teams traded away a piece they believed to be a key offensive cog to start the year (Dominic Oduro for Columbus and Jack McInerney for Philadelphia).
The Crew enter the match after suffering their first loss since August 9 last weekend, losing 2-1 on the road to the New England Revolution. The Union, meanwhile, haven't won in five games, dating back to September 3.
Both teams are fighting for the playoffs, with Philadelphia in more dire need of a win, sitting four points behind Columbus for the fifth and final post season spot.
William and I exchanged questions in order to see what has gone on with each team since the early season meeting.
Questions for Brotherly Game
Massive Report: For those who haven't paid attention, take Crew fans through what has happened in goal for the Union. Four goalkeepers? What happened between the pipes?
Brotherly Game: Well that's a story unto itself. The short version is that the Union currently have three keepers that could be starters depending on the club: Zac MacMath, Andre Blake and Rais M'Bolhi. It seems that Nick Sakiewicz is a bit of a keeperphile having been a keeper himself, I suppose it makes some sense. Basically the reason M'Bolhi was brought in was to replace MacMath who will likely end up somewhere else next season. MacMath has been admittedly spotty this season but he is a young keeper and has already racked up 100 MLS appearances. Blake has caused all sorts of controversy since he was drafted number one last year. So has anything major happened? No. The Union are a club who can turn on a dime, so apparently M'Bolhi is a long term investment and the idea of developing one of the best young American keepers is out. It's become par for the course when Nick Sakiewicz is involved.
MR: It has been five matches since Philadelphia last won, which is not exactly how you want to end the season if the goal is to make the playoffs. What has gone wrong lately and can the Union pull themselves out of this nosedive?
BL: There are two things wrong at the moment, lack of depth and lack of innovation. The Union are missing at least one key piece, more likely two. The lack of depth was painfully apparent against Seattle in the USOC final when the Sounders brought on Martins as a sub and Curtin sent on Fred. The regular starting XI can hang with any team on any day, but the real problem is that the team is a one trick pony. It's not that they aren't technically skilled enough to vary their style of play its that there is simply isn't the personnel to do it. The available subs are all lesser quality like for like players and offer nothing to be able to switch formations or style to adapt the an opponent. The Union have been found out under Curtin and he's really powerless to do anything about it because he doesn't have any decent players to change things up. So I am less than optimistic of their chances of pulling something out at the last minute, Indiana Jones style.
MR; Many MLS fans will remember Jim Curtin from his playing days, but how is he as a manager? Does he have a legitimate chance to lose the interim tag and be hired full time?
BL: I think Curtin is a good coach. I am not sure he's completely ready to be number one but I don't know many people that expect anyone to take the job from him. It's really a poisoned chalice with a front office like the Union's. It's Nick Sakiewicz's club and it's very obvious he makes all the important calls so finding any top class coach willing to work under those conditions is always going to be hard. The Union made a point of trying to define itself as a club that develops young talent and I hope that includes the technical area. I would like to see what he can do if given the reigns.
Questions for Massive Report
Brotherly Game: Let's talk rebrand - What's the general feeling amongst the fan base on the rebrand?
Massive Report: I think people were cautiously optimistic heading into Wednesday night, but the event and the unveil were a big success in Columbus. There has been overwhelming support for the new badge from the fans, who I think were very ready for something new. With a new owner and a new staff that changed the style of play, the team has talked all year of the "new era" in Crew soccer and I think this was the next step in that process. There is a lot of excitement around this team locally with the way they've been playing lately and I think that translated into the rebrand.
BG: You guys got a huge boost this week, Kamara coming in Jan, a whole new look and sitting just inside the playoff picture. Is there a feeling that the Crew are back on the upswing after more than a few pretty disappointing seasons in recent memory?
MR: Very much so. I think the team, over the last couple of months, has finally started to click. The coaching staff for the most part has found a lineup that works and the players are beginning to really show the style of play Gregg Berhalter wants. On top of that, the team has been winning so that doesn't hurt. The fans have certainly been on board. This year set a record for number of sellouts at Crew Stadium and the atmosphere at the stadium as been revived.
In terms of the Kamara signing, I think people are excited to see him back in Black and Gold. When he left prior to 2008, many were sad to see him go. He was a young, raw player, but there was potential there which was realized elsewhere. I think fans were always disappointed he didn't blossom in Columbus and now he will get a chance to finish the job in Columbus.
BG: The series against the Union are absolutely make or break for both teams if they want to make the post season. How do you see the series shaking out and what do you see making the difference between the two teams?
MR: If you would have asked me a week ago, I would have said I think the Crew's form would be the main difference. The team's confidence was riding high, they were playing well, and they had a consistent lineup. Now, they are coming in off a loss against the New England Revolution and will be without maestro Federico Higuain and left back Waylon Francis.
I think it is more important for the Union to get wins in both games, while I think the Black and Gold would be alright with four points, which is how I see it playing out.