Last Saturday’s contest against the Seattle Sounders proved nervy for Crew SC. Despite falling down a man in the 15th minute of the match, the Black & Gold held the line and escaped the Emerald City with a valuable road point. Columbus returns to MAPFRE Stadium for its second game in five days as the Philadelphia Union come to town on Wednesday evening.
Since the last encounter with the Black & Gold on March 17th, things haven’t been clicking in the City of Brotherly Love. With the Union amassing just four points in the team’s last six matches and sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with eight points.
Let’s take a look at how both teams matchup ahead of their clash in Columbus on Wednesday night.
Union at a glance
Leading Scorer: C.J. Sapong (2)
Assists Leader: Five players tied with one assist
The previous matchup
Both clubs played to an uninspiring 0-0 draw in Chester, Pennsylvania on March 17th. Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen and Union goalkeeper Andre Blake had an average day, making three saves each.
Columbus forward Gyasi Zardes proved he was human after all. The forward failed to convert on chances that could have established a potential advantage for the Black & Gold. In addition to Zardes’ struggles, the Cristian Martinez hype train began to lose momentum. The 21 year old’s subpar performance drew the ire of Crew fans and could be the reason why Niko Hansen has seen more time since then.
The Union’s weakness at set-piece defending has to be keeping head coach Jim Curtin up at night. The Colorado Rapids feasted on the Philly’s inability to defend set pieces during their match on March 31st. Rapids forward Dominique Badji scored the first of his three goals that evening off a set piece. Union defender Jack Elliott lost his marker and allowed Badji to score from an acute angle.
Similar incidents occurred in Philadelphia's next few matches. No doubt that Gregg Berhalter and his staff will put some unique set pieces into Crew SC’s rotation on Wednesday evening.
We’ve said it before and we will say it again, David Accam makes a career out of terrorizing Columbus Crew SC. The Ghanian winger works hard every game to get into space and cause havoc for the Black & Gold. Although he was held relatively quiet in the first meeting and has started the season poorly, look for Accam to attack down the wings and challenge fellow countrymen Harrison Afful. How Crew SC go about neutralizing Accam will go a long way to determining the outcome on Wednesday night.
Stretching the defense
One of the notable struggles, the Union lack proficiency to defend on the counter. Philadelphia struggles when the opposition plays the ball long and over the defense. It is evident that the communication along the defense breaks down and Philly is slow to recover. It would be smart to send the Crew SC forwards into a high press Wednesday night, just to see what happens.
How Crew SC win
The Black & Gold will need to play with pace and consistency on the offensive attack. Berhalter and his staff will look to play the ball long along the wings to create chaos along the Union backline. This will generate quality scoring opportunities for Crew SC which it will need to capitalize on.
An area of opportunity for Columbus should look be set pieces. As mentioned earlier, Philadelphia has yet to prove it can defend those chances. Crew SC midfielder Federico Higuain could get the Black & Gold on the board in this game with a well placed free kick.
Columbus must limit chances from Accam and Sapong. The Union forwards might not be enjoying the tremendous campaign that pundits forecasted, but you don’t want to be the team that builds their confidence. Crew SC will be challenged due to its first encounter with match congestion, so limiting mental mistakes and staying with the basics will help the Black & Gold be successful on Wednesday night.