The Black & Gold did its best to throw away another 4-1 lead last Saturday, but Columbus Crew SC held on at the end to defeat Real Salt Lake 4-3. This marked the club's first win in over a month, but extended the team's unbeaten run to four matches. Ola Kamara, who is now the man up top for Columbus after the trade of Kei Kamara, opened his MLS account early in the match and followed it up with two more goals for his first hat trick for Crew SC en route to being named MLS Player of the Week.
On Wednesday, the Black & Gold hope to go into the international break on a positive note, traveling to take on the Philadelphia Union in the final league match for 17 days.
The Union have already faced Columbus once this year. Philly came into MAPFRE Stadium in mid-March and walked out with a 2-1 victory. Since that match, Philadelphia have continued a steady climb up the Eastern Conference and currently sit at the top with five wins and 20 points in 2016.
CJ Sapong has been a nice surprise up top for the Union this year. After tying his career high with nine goals a season ago, the forward already has five finishes to lead all Philadelphia players. He has been aided by the addition of Chris Pontius playing in the midfield. The former D.C. United player has four goals and five assists to help boost the East leaders.
While Columbus has been hit by the injury bug at a bad time, the Union will also be missing some key players in this one. Goalkeeper Andre Blake is away on international duty with Jamaica, defender/midfielder Maurice Edu is out with left tibia stress reaction, and rookie defender Joshua Yaro, who has started seven games this season, is doubtful due to a shoulder injury.
So what has made a team that finished near the bottom of the league standings a year ago into an early season MLS Cup favorite? Is this success sustainable and what else do Crew SC fans need to know about Philly heading into this match? We turned to Eugene Rupinski of SB Nation's Brotherly Game once again for more information on the Union.
Questions for Brotherly Game
Massive Report: When these two sides last met, it seemed like a surprise win for Philadelphia at MAPFRE Stadium. Clearly that game wasn't a fluke based on where these teams sit in the standings. What has been the biggest factor in the Union climbing to the top of the East here early on?
Brotherly Game: I think a major part of it is the club believes in itself and in the process that [Sporting Director] Earnie Stewart has instituted since arriving last year. The club has bought into it and I think that confidence is evident when they play. Manager Jim Curtin even said in the press conference yesterday that "While the names on the back of our jerseys might not be glamorous or sexy, we're not afraid of anybody." Couple that with teams probably underestimating them because of the absolute dumpster fire they were for the past few seasons, and you have the recipe for a team with something to prove really taking the league by storm.
MR: I think many who follow MLS were a bit surprised when D.C. United traded Chris Pontius to Philly. Obviously he's contributed four goals and three assists already this year, but what else has he added to this Union team?
BG: He's added an element of grit in the attacking midfield that has really helped the Union. He's always getting bandaged up during the game because he's gone in hard for an aerial challenge or 50/50 ball. Teams have to account for him, so that also frees up guys like Tranquillo Barnetta, Sebastien Le Toux, and CJ Sapong from being double teamed when they get the ball.
MR: We've seen teams in the past have good starts to the MLS campaign and then melt down over the second half of the season. Where is the confidence meter in Philadelphia that Jim Curtin and this team can sustain this level of play and be a force in the East all year?
BG: I think it depends on who you ask. Some people are always going to be ready for that other shoe to drop (it's Philadelphia sports after all - look at all of the times the Eagles and Flyers have failed to win it all), but I'm confident this team will continue on its path. The team is only going to miss Andre Blake with international duty, and while they may be deserving of All-Star honors, they don't have the big names like Lampard and Cole that will most likely make the All-Star Game roster. Plus, the team is deep - having men like Ilsinho and Roland Alberg on the bench and Maurice Edu coming back from injury soon only further bolsters the likelihood of the Union making a run in the playoffs.
To take a look at Massive Report's answers to Brotherly Game's questions, head on over to their site.