Last week, on a cold, brisk Saturday afternoon, striker Gyasi Zardes rescued Columbus Crew SC from a tie and allowed his team to escape with all three points. He converted a critical late penalty kick that saw the Black & Gold win a hard fought contest against the Montreal Impact, 3-2.
This weekend’s opponent, the Philadelphia Union remained idle last week with a bye.
However, Union head coach Jim Curtin and his men are riding a wave of momentum from their season opening win against the New England Revolution. Philly got contributions from CJ Sapong and homegrown midfielder Anthony Fontana, as goals from both players sealed the 2-0 victory for Philadelphia.
Union at a glance
Philadelphia are a team that prefers to operate with a high-pressing attack.
With talented forwards like Sapong and David Accam it’s easy to understand Curtain’s logic. The high press could prove successful against the Black & Gold again as Montreal demonstrated in the 58th minute last week when Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti broke through to begin the Impact’s comeback run.
The Union look to its wingers to provide space and service into the penalty box and cause havoc for the Crew SC defense. The speed of Accam and precision of midfielders like Fabian Herbers and Marcus Epps should prove beneficial to the cause.
The striker is the lifeblood of the Union’s offense. Sapong is known for physically commanding a game and being able to out muscle his way to the ball.
During his goal-scoring sequence in the first game against the Revs, Sapong bodied up against his defender and tussled with him for 10 yards before winning the ball and slamming it in the back of the net.
The Union rewarded the 29 year old for his contributions with a new contract on Wednesday.
“A striker that means so much to our club, and what we’re about,” said Curtin in an article on the league’s website. “He’s a key attacking piece for us but also the first line of defense for our team. A guy who’s done everything for the badge, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and watch him grow and take his game to another level.”
An eighth place finish for the Union in 2017 had many fans calling for change in the City of Brotherly Love, and that’s exactly what happened when Accam came to town. The 27-year-old Ghanian was acquired for $1.2 million in Allocation Money, making the deal one of the most expensive among MLS clubs.
Accam comes off a career year in which he scored 14 goals and tallied eight assists for the Chicago Fire. Accam plagued Crew SC throughout the years and combined with Sapong, could prove problematic for the defense on Saturday afternoon.
Crew SC aren’t the only club with a dynamic goalkeeper between the pipes. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake is electrifying and can create moments of disbelief for Major League Soccer’s top forwards.
Blake possesses a rare form of athleticism and instincts that make him one of the best keepers in the league. The Black & Gold will need a top notch performance to beat this net minder.
How Crew SC win
A complete defensive performance with absolutely zero mental lapses. Too many times last week, the Black & Gold got caught on their heels in the second half and put an incredible burden on Zack Steffen to come up with yet another herculean effort.
Offensively, Crew SC striker Gyasi Zardes could have another big game for the Black & Gold as the Union traditionally struggle against skillful players.
Columbus must neutralize Accam at all costs. Historically the winger gives the Crew SC defense fits and his team is often the beneficiary. The Ghanian has a nose for goal and knows how to make great off-the-ball runs to lure defenders away from the middle of the penalty box and open scoring opportunities for his team’s center forward.
Expect this game to be won and lost in the midfield. Traditionally the Union like to play through the center of the park in buildup, look for Artur and Wil Trapp to be game for the challenge and continue their run of form against another potent attack in order for Crew SC to be successful.
Lastly, the goalkeepers in this game will be phenomenal. It wouldn’t surprise me if this game is a 0-0 tie at the end after some tremendous play at the back from Blake and Steffen. It’s going to take something special for a team to emerge victorious in this game.