After the early season schedule that saw Columbus Crew SC have two off weeks and a coast to coast half week road trip, the team has finally gotten a chance to settle into a normal schedule, two consecutive home games, seven days apart even! This week, the Philadelphia Union come to MAPFRE Stadium with Crew SC having a chance to move up the standings again after their slow (2-2-2) start to the season after a preseason of big expectations.
The Union will be looking to just have a slow start after their abysmal start to the season that's seen them lose half their opening eight games and scratch out four points on their way to a 1-4-3 record. Philadelphia has had bright spots. Fernando Aristeguieta has made a big impact, scoring three of the Union's nine goals to lead the team.
The teams have been a study in contrast with the biggest differences on defense. Crew SC have been stout at the back, only allowing .83 goals a game. The Union allow a gaudy 1.625 goals a game. That is critical when both are averaging over a goal scored a game. Crew SC are tight enough to record some wins. The Union score enough to make things interesting, but then let the result slip on the defensive end.
Wil Trapp is the remaining key absence for Crew SC. He's officially listed as questionable, but he's still recovering from concussion effects and it would be a big surprise to see him in the lineup Mohammed Saied will once again deputize for the injured vice-captain. Reserve defender Sergio Campbell has been upgraded to questionable. He has yet to appear in the game day 18.
The Union have a longer injury list with several key players carrying injuries. Aristeguieta is suffering from an injured quad and is listed as questionable, but he's battling through the injury and played last week. Vincent Nogueira is also listed as questionable after picking up an ankle sprain last week and missing practice this week. He's been a key for the Union to play to potential and his absence makes Crew SC's task a little easier in midfield. Cristian Maidana is off the injured list and is slowly rounding back into form after an early season injury. He's expected to start.
The Union have two players out. Reserve midfielder Eric Bird is out with a long term hernia injury and ofttimes substitute forward Antoine Hoppenot is still recovering from a hamstring strain.
Until they figure it out, the key matchup is in midfield and how Crew SC deal with the Union's press. Gregg Berhalter has been asked about it; the players were grilled by the media too. Columbus has struggled with the high press and the Union was very effective in stopping Crew SC's attack for long stretches in their three matches last year, games Crew SC ultimately won.
Columbus still haven't figured out how to counter the press. The team struggled mightily earlier this year when faced with the very strong New York Red Bulls midfield. Tchani and Saied were immediately put under pressure and didn't have safety valves and turned the ball over in dangerous spots. Federico Higuain gave the ball away regularly and the usual outlets, the wingbacks and center backs also struggled under the pressure.
To break that cycle, Crew SC have two options available to them, perseverance and speed. Columbus defeated the Union last year by outlasting the pressure. Philadelphia can't keep up the press for the entire game, it's extremely taxing. Crew SC must limit the bad choices and turnovers deep in their own zone where they are most damaging.
The other option is speed, speed of play and individual speed. The Union will close down especially in midfield and Saied and Tchani will need to read and play the next pass quickly before the next wave of the press is set. That next pass may be into space. This is where individual speed comes in. A ball played into space for Ethan Finlay or even Justin Meram would rely on their pace to run onto it first. That's not often in Crew SC's playbook, but with the Union compressed, those longer passes often go over an aggressive press.
Berhalter often wants the team to play possession passing soccer. MLS defenses have countered effectively with the aggressive press. If Columbus can persevere against the waves of attackers, they can get back to their game eventually. They did it three times against the Union last year.
Stay Massive and stay dry.