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Massive Scouting Report: Understanding the Union

Columbus hits the road for an early season matchup against the Eastern Conference foe.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

You couldn’t script a better start to the “new era” for Columbus Crew SC. The Black & Gold remain unbeaten in 2019 and look to continue the trend Saturday evening in Chester, Pennsylvania. Last week, the Crew defeated FC Dallas 1-0, on the back of another set-piece goal from Gaston Sauro. The defender continues his storybook start to 2019, serving as a key cog in a defense that has allowed only one goal to this point.

The Union aren’t off to a great start this season. Head coach Jim Curtin and his club have yet to taste victory in 2019 and it appears depth issues could have gotten worse before they get better. So far this season, Philadelphia dropped decisions to Toronto FC and Sporting Kansas City, but managed to pick up a valuable point against defending champions Atlanta United last week.

Union at a glance

Form: L-L-D

Leading Scorer: Two players tied with one goal

Assists Leader: Kai Wagner (1)

How they play

Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin and his staff touted a formation change to begin the 2019 season, hoping that it could increase scoring production early on. The Union moved from its familiar 4-2-3-1 in 2018 to a 4-4-2 diamond to begin the season.

Here’s how Philadelphia lined up to face Toronto in the season opener:

The thought looked good on paper, except Toronto took away the center of the park and forced the Union to play the ball to the wings. This action took away any severe scoring threat and allowed TFC to overload the attack and force turnovers.

As the match progressed, the Union began to hit long balls over the top of the defense allowing Cory Burke and Fafa Picault to run after them. This tactic worked for a short time before if began to take a physical toll on the visitors.

This left Philadelphia susceptible to counter-attacking pressure, which didn’t hurt the visitors initially but caused some mental lapses that led to goals later on in the match.

The struggles of the new system lead to head coach adjusting the system, which allowed Picault, Burke and Fabian to work together in the final third. The change didn’t yield results until last week against Atlanta, when the Union scored their first goal just minutes into the second half.

No doubt the Union hope for better results this weekend against Columbus.

Game of depth

Don’t you love games during the FIFA international break? How about suspensions? If you are a fan of either team, chances are you can plan on seeing some fresh faces when the game kicks off.

The Crew will be without key players as they represent their countries during the international break. Gyasi Zardes (United States), Wil Trapp (United States), and Justin Meram (Iraq) Waylon Francis (Costa Rica) will miss Saturday’s match in Chester.

Zack Steffen was called into camp for the United States but withdrew following a knee injury that he picked up prior to last week’s match against Dallas.

The Union will be without key players as well. Andre Blake (Jamaica), Corey Burke (Jamaica), and Warren Creavalle (Guyana) will also miss the match.

Designated player Marco Fabian is unavailable as he continues to serve a red card suspension for stepping on Kansas City’s Johnny Russell following a challenge two weeks ago.

How Crew SC win

It’s clear the Union don’t have all of the intricacy’s figured out in regards to their new system. On offense, Columbus should deploy attacking runs between the center backs Auston Trusty and Jack Elliott.

Trusty remains steadfast on the backline but Elliott appears to be the most susceptible to mistakes. A pacy attacking player going right at the center back should lead to quality opportunities on the Union net.

Columbus can also taste success by playing the ball out on the wings and switching the points of attack. Philadelphia has a tendency of ball watching and losing their shape. This can leave attacking players unattended, allowing for an open shot on goal.

Defensively this game offers an early look at what life may be like without Steffen. It’s expected that Joe Bendik will get the start in net and this could serve as an audition for him. The Black & Gold defense has allowed just one goal this season and looks to maintain that stellar mark.

Can Bendik lead Columbus to another victory and can he deliver a performance that will capture the attention of head coach Caleb Porter?

It isn’t unrealistic to think that Columbus can capture another victory on the road but they must execute on all front and not allow anything easy to a Philadelphia team that lacks some serious depth.