Two weeks ago the Philadelphia Union were eliminated from playoff contention by the Columbus after a 3-2 loss in which the Black and Gold came storming back from a 2-0 deficit in the second half. A week later, the Crew clinched a playoff spot without playing, as Toronto FC tied the Montreal Impact, guaranteeing a return to the post season for Columbus.
The Union and the Crew meet again on Sunday in the final game of the regular season. For the Black and Gold, there is still post season seeding to play for him, while Philadelphia are just looking to play spoiler and end the year on a positive note.
We once again talked with Eugene Rupinski of SB Nation's Brotherly Game to preview this final outing.
Questions for Brotherly Game
Massive Report: When these teams last met two weeks ago, the Crew came storming back from two goals down in the second half to win 3-2. What was the reaction from that game from the team? How about the fans after witnessing that second half collapse in person?
Brotherly Game: It was heartbreak and frustration. Union fans knew if they didn't win that the playoff hopes were done - and even with a win it would still be difficult. Going up 2-0 was amazing, and then watching that evaporate was absolutely sickening. Hats off to Columbus for not rolling over and dying, but it was tough as a fan to stomach. There were a lot of upset people after that match.
MR: With no playoffs for Philadelphia this year, what are the biggest needs the Union staff needs to address in the offseason?
BG: The club absolutely has to get a striker and solidify the back line. Conor Casey is 33, and there are reports that he has tendonitis in his knee and should not be counted on to be an every game option anymore. Sebastien Le Toux is great, but he can't be expected to go it alone - he works best in tandem with a big, physical target striker up top. Pedro Ribiero could be that guy someday, but he is not there yet. There's really no one on the depth chart that can be that guy, so someone will have to be brought in.
While the defensive line has good players and options, there hasn't been a consistent lineup in an area that thrives under consistent conditions. The revolving-door at center back has to be stopped. Valdes and Edu (if he returns) should be the starting center back tandem with Ethan White serving as cover. Austin Berry has a lot of work to do in order to regain the form he displayed during his rookie year with the Chicago Fire. The Union also needs a starting-caliber left back. Fabinho is past his prime and I'm not convinced his prime was all that good. Ray Gaddis is serviceable, but is much better suited to playing on the right. There needs to be a solid, left-footed left back brought in, although the Union has had that need since sending Jordan Harvey to Vancouver in 2011. If they can get this straightened out and the striker situation dealt with, the Union will be a force in 2015.
MR: This is the last game of the season for both teams. What would you like to see out of the team heading into the offseason that might help ease the pain while watching the playoffs?
BG: Lots of scotch.
Personally I'd like to see the guys whose contracts are expiring at the end of the year on the pitch playing for their jobs. Either you want to be here and you show it on the field, or off you go. I'd also like to see the young players get some minutes to see what they can do. The Union have signed three Homegrown Players in their history who have played a total of 264 minutes since 2012. Let's evaluate them in a meaningless game and see what they're capable of doing. However I'm not Jim Curtin, who has said he didn't think it fair to play someone just because they were young and that he was going to put his best eleven onto the pitch. Now I'm sure we'll see some guys out with those late season injuries that seem to crop up when a team is out of contention, so some young guys will get a look. But the majority will probably be the guys we've seen all season.
So, lots of scotch.
Questions for Massive Report
Brotherly Game: The new Columbus Crew logo is sharp. Will any part of you miss the hard hat guys? What were the best/worst comments people have said over the years about them?
Massive Report: I think there will be some nostalgic people who will miss the original logo, especially those that have been around since 1996. I think the biggest thing will be people having to buy new apparel, although some will likely just keep what they already have.
The most common joke, that is appropriate to repeat, about the three men was they reminded people of Village People. I actually overheard someone at a game once say they had always thought, when they'd seen the logo around town, that it was for a construction company. Needless to say, this is what the new ownership group wanted to get away from. Now people can look at the badge and know it's a team, and specifically a soccer team.
BG: It's been lean times for the Crew since 2011 or so. How did the fans cope, and how good does it feel to now be back among the best teams in the East?
MR: The last two years were certainly difficult for Crew fans, especially considering how the team performed from 2008 through 2011. I think after last season, most fans were just happy the year was over after everything that occurred. There was a sense new owner Anthony Precourt had a vision and would make a good hire, which he eventually did in Gregg Berhalter.
As for this year, fans are genuinely excited to see how this team does in the playoffs. After the lean summer months, most Crew fans were ready to scrap the season, but the team has rebounded wonderfully and clawed its way up a tight Eastern Conference. I believe there is a sense that this team could make a bit of noise in the post season with their end of year form and the fans are excited to see what is yet to come from this team.
BG: Bringing Kei Kamara back next year is going to strengthen an already strong squad. What would be your 2015 Opening Day roster, and what needs if any are expected to be addressed?
MR: I think the team is fairly strong with where it is currently. The addition of Kamara should address Columbus' biggest weakness this year, goal scoring which actually hasn't been a problem of late. If the Black and Gold had a striker who could finish somewhat regularly this year, I don't think it would have taken them until the final Saturday of the season to clinch a playoff birth. Most of the struggles throughout the summer came from an inability for the man up front, whoever it was, to finish chances.
Obviously there will be some natural attrition, but I would expect the team to stay fairly similar. Berhalter has finally found a starting 11 that he likes and is producing and I wouldn't expect him to mess with that too much over the offseason. I could see the need for a right back, as that has been one of the most rotated positions after the loss of Josh Williams, a player who could be taken in the Expansion Draft, with a blood clot issue.