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Crossing the Touchline: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC

Looking at the Union from the inside perspective.

Columbus Crew SC and the Philadelphia Union have met twice already in 2016. The first meeting, only the second game of the year for both sides, was a surprising 2-1 victory for the Union at MAPFRE Stadium, which set the tone for the first half of the season for Philly.

In early June, just before the Major League Soccer international break, the two sides met again in Philadelphia. This result was less surprising as Philly dispatched of a sputtering Crew SC side 3-2.

The third meeting comes on the back of the Black & Gold’s first win in 10 matches, 2-0 over the New England Revolution on Saturday. Columbus is attempting to right the ship and make a push for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Philadelphia is also trying to find some form. After a strong first half of the year, the Union are only 3-6-2 since the last meeting between the two clubs. Over that time, Philly did add U.S. National Team midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who has appeared in the last two matches.

Considering the last meeting between Crew SC and the Union was nearly three months ago, we checked in with Eugene Rupinski of our sister site Brotherly Game to see how things have gone in Philadelphia of late.

Questions for Brotherly Game

Massive Report: Philadelphia made a lot of noise nearly the MLS transfer deadline. For Crew SC fans who were too busy waiting for Columbus to not make moves, could you tell them how the personnel has changed for the Union? What were the reactions to those brought in and those that left?

Brotherly Game: The Philadelphia Union had two huge needs going into the transfer window - a number 8 to replace Vincent Nogueira, and a striker that can help lessen the load for CJ Sapong. Earnie Stewart went out and brought in Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies, both of whom seem to fit the club's needs perfectly. Bedoya has played in two games since coming over from Nantes, and has played well in both. Davies has also played in two games and did well in a substitute role. Bedoya is an instant upgrade at the 8 over playing Tranquillo Barnetta or Warren Creavalle out of position, and Davies is an instant upgrade at striker over the promising but still unpolished Fabian Herbers.

I think something that might not be apparent to outsiders is the psychological lift that the signings have given. Prior to their arrivals, the Union had gone from one of the best teams in the league and top of the Eastern Conference to one that was steadily sliding down the table. The fans here were expecting something that happens all too often in Philadelphia sports - seasons that start out with a bang going out with a whimper. But the ownership opening up the wallet to get a guy like Bedoya and doing what had to be done to get Davies - guys that filled huge needs for the club - that's not something the fans here are used to. It gave a huge boost of confidence that this team will be competitive again and should not be taken lightly. There are still bugs to work out, as evidenced in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Toronto FC, but the club seems headed back in the right direction.

As for the departure of Sebastien Le Toux, it was hard. The guy is a club legend - I had was a club legend there but he still is very much a legend here in Philadelphia. He was loved here in Philadelphia, and he and his wife had built a life here. When it was announced that he was leaving, we asked fans for their favorite Le Toux story, and it was a few hours worth of tweets. How Le Toux would be the last guy on the bus because he was signing autographs, or how people would recognize him out somewhere and he'd always be gracious and talk to him. It was hard for fans, but I think most everyone realized that in order for the club to progress it had to be done. At 31, he was a good sub option - able to play on the right wing or attacking mid/false nine - but at over $300k a season, there were far less expensive options. By trading him, the Union freed up cap space and got some allocation money, and thus allowed them to address the need at striker with Davies.

MR: When we last saw Philly, the Black & Gold were dooped out of town 3-2 and the Union appeared to be flying high. Since that point, it's been up and down for Philadelphia. What's gone on?

BG: It's hard to understate how crucial a piece Vincent Nogueira was for the Union. He was the link between the offense and defense, and when he left that really exposed how much of a gulf there was between the two units and how hard it was to fill that. You need someone who can play offense and defense well and easily transition between the two mindsets. When Nogueira left, the Union put Warren Creavalle in, however Creavalle is a stay at home central defensive midfielder (think Brian Carroll), so he didn't perform well there because he wasn't able to create the offensive chances that Nogueira could. Mind you this isn't a dig at Warren - he was a square peg the Union tried to make fit in a round hole. Tranquillo Barnetta was then moved from the 10 into the 8, but he wasn't able to read when to defend like Creavalle or Nogueira, and he too didn't perform well in the position.

Without that critical link, the Union were forced to rely on hopeful long balls forward from the back and their prowess on free kicks and set pieces in order to generate offense. Sometimes it worked, however often it did not. That's why the Bedoya move is so huge - Creavalle has gone back to playing defensive mid and done well, Barnetta is back playing at the 10 and has done well, and Bedoya has taken the 8 role. We'll see how he'll perform - two games is not a suitable body of work to draw conclusions from, but with his experience and abilities, the expectations are there that he'll be the answer at that position for a long time.

MR: A quick look at the scoring charts for Philly shows a nice balance in both goals and assists. How has this worked out this year and is that okay? In other words, do fans wish the team had a go-to guy offensively or are people alright with everyone chipping in?

BG: Scoring by committee is always a double-edged sword. It's great knowing that literally anyone on the team can score. Eight of the Union's best eleven lineup have scored goals - only left back Fabinho and goalkeeper Andre Blake have not, and that's something that has to give opposing defenses nightmares. It's also scary knowing that there isn't one guy you know will come through in a pinch. Toronto fans know that Giovinco will score. Quakes fans know Chris Wondolowski will score. The closest we have is left winger Chris Pontius, who is the Union's first double-digit goalscorer since 2014. CJ Sapong ranks third on the Union (behind Roland Alberg) in goals, however the work that he does is critical to setting up the goals. Defenses have to account for him at all times, and that leaves Pontius, Alberg, Barnetta, Ilsinho, etc. single-covered or open.

I think some fans probably wish there was a Giovinco or Wondolowski type player, however most I've talked to are just happy the goals are coming. It was a big worry going into the season - "Where are the goals going to come from?" That was a popular refrain six or seven months ago. The goals have come and now it's "How can we stop other teams from scoring?" The Union are third in goals scored with 43, but fifth worst in goals conceded with 40. Hopefully the chemistry on the back line will finally click again and things will start going much like they did at the beginning of the season.


To see Massive Report’s answers to Brotherly Game’s questions, check out their Three Questions piece.