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Do the Union Possess the Kryptonite for Crew SC?

Despite the results, Philadelphia seem to have the key to slowing the Black and Gold's style of play.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It's no secret around Major League Soccer how Columbus Crew SC want to play. There are many around the league who believe the Black and Gold play the most attractive style of soccer of any team, but that doesn't mean everyone is in love with it.

"I think it comes down to, it's easier to destroy than it is to build," head coach Gregg Berhalter said about opponents combatting his system.

"It's easy to come up with a plan to stop teams from playing it rather than come up with a plan to play and to build up and we like to do the latter."

One way that has been effective at times is pressing the Crew SC players high and making it difficult for the defensive players to play out of the back. One of the teams that's had some success with that strategy is the Philadelphia Union, Saturday's opponent.

"They do," winger Hector Jimenez said before the question about the Union's methods of play against Columbus could be finished.

"They put a little pressure on us the way they shape up when we try and play out of the back and it's going to be a little bit difficult for us."

In all three games a year ago, Philadelphia made life difficult for the Black and Gold.

In just the second game of the season a year ago, after Crew SC had a great opening night against D.C. United, moving the ball at will, the Union dirtied up the game by having the attackers match up with Columbus' defenders so it was not easy to start the attack from the back.

Although Philly disrupted the Black and Gold, Crew SC won all three games a year ago, they were not easy wins. That early season contest saw Bernardo Anor score two great goals, before the Black and Gold hung on in the second half. The one game in Philadelphia featured a furious comeback from Columbus, where the side scored three goals in four minutes after being down 2-0. The final game of the season saw a late equalizer from the Union before Anor again scored in stoppage time.

"They've given us some good games and what I would say to that is, they're a good team," Berhalter explained. "We're going to prepare our hardest to be able to respond to some of that, but we hope to go out and play a good game."

Already this year, albeit in the preseason, Philly disrupted Crew SC's fluid play, turning a rainy game ugly for a 1-1 draw that was eventually won by the Union in a penalty kick shootout.

Because of the impact it's had on Crew SC, Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin will certainly implement this tactic again, looking for the team's first win against Berhalter. At this point though, the Columbus players and coaches have seen the press enough to be confident they can break it down.

"To go back to last year, New York did that to us in New York and we had one of the best games I think last year [a 3-1 Crew SC win]," Jimenez said. "Definitely Philly in Philly, coming back last year with those three goals. They did well pressuring us. There's always solutions and Gregg's a thinker and he's always trying to figure out a solution to try and get out of that."

The press has been effective, but the Black and Gold have found success at times when they have broken through. It requires moving the ball quicker than normal and tiring the opposition. This slows the press and helps to find holes.

"After you kind of break that first barrier, you feel a lot more comfortable," Jimenez explained. "It starts with Steve, being able to play that ball into our fullbacks. And once he gets into a rhythm and we start getting some good chances from that movement, it just makes it easy on us for sure."

Berhalter admitted earlier in the season that he spent time watching how other possession-based teams when the opponent presses high. His new ideas and tactics will be put to the test Saturday night.

Crew SC have already been pressed this year and the results have been mixed. If the Black and Gold come out with high energy, as they did against Orlando, and get through Philadelphia's high line early, it could spell issues for the Union and another big night at MAPFRE Stadium.