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Previewing Philadelphia Union at the Columbus Crew

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Since the Crew and the Union just played a week ago and it will be tough to predict how the Union will come out, we decided to do something a little different than the normal Scouting Report.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, the Philadelphia Union were up 2-0 on the Columbus Crew at home with only 12 minutes to play. The Union needed a result in the game to keep their playoff hopes alive, yet the Crew scored three goals in a five-minute span to win 3-2 and eliminate Philadelphia from post season contention.

On Sunday the two teams will meet again with much less on the line, but that does not mean Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter expects an easy game for his side.

"I would guarantee that it's going to be a team that's going to come here to compete," he said this. "That's the nature of our business and they have a lot of guys that want to end the season on the right foot. They're not going to give anything up; they're going to be strong."

For the Union, there isn't much left to play for after the collapse against the Black and Gold. Crew midfielder Ethan Finlay, who spent the first two years of the season outside of the playoffs, says it's not easy but teams find motivation.

"It's tough but I think [those guys are playing for jobs]," he said.

"Some of them will be there and some of them won't. Not to say one game will affect that, but it could if you're on the fringe.

"I think you'll see a good Philadelphia team. They're bitter about us knocking them out. That night is the night they got knocked out by us and I think they're going to come in and they're going to be ready to attack."

Finishing Third

The Crew enter the weekend in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs began today, Columbus would host the New York Red Bulls in a the one-game knockout round between the fourth and fifth seed. The highest the Black and Gold can finish is third, and would need help to get there, but Berhalter said that is where they want to end up.

"We had a conversation last week how we refocused and now we set our sights on something higher," he said. "We are trying to get third place, there's no secret about that. We want to get third place."

In order for this to happen, the Crew would need at least a tie in Sunday's game with the Union. That would put them on 50 points to end the year, one ahead of Sporting Kansas City for third.

Of course things are never so simple. Sporting and the Red Bulls play Sunday night in Kansas City, which is not an easy place to play. In order to put themselves in the best position, Columbus would need to win the game, putting the pressure on Sporting to do the same.

Keeping Momentum

A win would not guarantee anything for the Crew and they will certainly pay attention to game that evening, but it would keep the club rolling.

The Black and Gold have lost one game in their last seven and are 8-3-2 since the beginning of August. There have been plenty of MLS teams in the past who have gotten hot at the right time and made a deep run in the playoffs and Columbus is hoping to carry the momentum into the post season.

"The last thing we want to do is take the last two wins and sit on them and not really try and build off it because after Sunday, we're right in the thick of it and every game is that much more important. So I think this game Sunday is huge," midfielder Wil Trapp said.

Trapp believes with the team's form, they will be a hard out in the post season.

"Moving through into the playoffs, I think we've beaten almost every team that will play against in the playoffs other than KC," he said. "So we're confident and we're just ready to go."

Injuries

Columbus would love to be at full strength heading into the final game of the regular season but they may be without two key players. Both attacking maestro Federico Higuain and defender and captain Michael Parkhurst both are listed as questionable on the injury report before the match.

"They've done pretty well but I'd say the injury report is accurate," Berhalter said on Friday.

Parkhurst was substituted from last week's win over the Red Bulls at halftime with a back strain and has dealt with spasms all week. Higuain played the full 90 minutes a week ago but had issues with a right hip strain this week. Both players missed training throughout the week.

With the playoffs looming, does Columbus head coach consider holding those two out in order to prepare for the post season? He says no.

"That is a line of thinking but I'm hesitant to do that, I really am because, like I said, we see this as an important game," he told reporters.

On a positive note, Berhalter said there's a possibility defender Josh Williams could return for the final match of the season. Williams has been out since July with blood clot issue, but returned to training at the end of September. He has been working to get match fit in order to help his team after starting 13 of his 14 games played earlier in the year.

"Sure, there's a chance," Berhalter responded when asked if fans might see Josh Williams. "He's coming along well. He's doing well in training, looks good."

With Parkhurst possibly out, Williams could fill in alongside Tyson Wahl (potentially moving Eric Gehrig into the middle of the defense) or Emanuel Pogatetz could get his first start since joining the club.