After a disappointing performance and result in the Hell is Real Derby this past Saturday, Columbus Crew SC returns to MAPFRE Stadium to face the Philadelphia Union in what is one of the marquee matchups in the MLS this week. Both teams are near the top oof the Eastern Conference so far in 2020 and have strong ambitions for the rest of the 2020 MLS season.
Let’s take a closer look at what Philadelphia is bringing to MAPFRE Stadium this Wednesday night.
Philadelphia Union at a Glance:
Record: 4-1-3, 15 points
League Form: W-W-D-D-W
Leading Scorer: Sergio Santos (5)
Assist Leader: Alejandro Bedoya, Brenden Aaronson, Jamiro Monteiro, (2)
Player to Watch: Kacper Przybylko
Przybylko has been on a tear recently for the Union. “The Friendly Ghost,” as he has been affectionately nicknamed by Union supporters, boasts three goals and an assist in the last two matches for Philadelphia. The 6-foot-4 Polish striker has the ability to score goals in a multitude of ways up top for the Union. Whether it’s with his head, one-touch finishing in the penalty box or a long-distance strike, Przybylko has proven time and again he has been able to put the ball in the net for the Union.
In his first 37 matches for Philadelphia, he has bagged 19 goals. To put that into perspective, Przybylko has scored in 51 percent of games for the Union. In comparison, the Crew’s very own Gyasi Zardes has scored in 53 percent of games played for the Black & Gold. Needless to say, Przybylko will be a highlighted name on the Crew’s prematch scouting sheet, and for good reason.
How the Union play:
In his seventh season as Union head coach, Jim Curtin has steadily improved Philly during his tenure at the club. In recent years, Curtinchanged his tactics and reaped the rewards.
The Union typically line up in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield featuring both an attacking and defensive central midfielder and wide midfielders that will often tuck into the central part of the field to create numerical overloads against the opposition, especially in the attacking half of the field. These tactics, and the players the Union have acquired to successfully execute these tactics, have enabled the Philadelphia to play a fluent and attacking style of soccer, dominate possession and control games thus far in MLS regular season play.
Another important piece to the Union puzzle is the team’s ability to press high up the field defensively and create turnovers in the attacking half. Similar to the Crew, Philadelphia looks to put pressure on the opposition high up the field with the end goal of creating turnovers and minimizing the distance between where playeers win the ball and the goal they are attacking. The Union has been largely successful with this due to the team’s hard-working midfield and front line, as well as the stout defense. Philly typically causes a lot of problems for the opposition by refusing to let them get any sort of comfort on the ball and create an attacking rhythm in the match.
How the Crew can win:
The good news for the Black & Gold and Crew supporters everywhere is that Columbus is unlikely to face a low defensive block for long periods of time in this matchup with the Union. That being said, the Crew will still have a lot to do in order to take all three points from Philadelphia at home on Wednesday.
Arguably the most important aspect of this Eastern Conference matchup will be the Crew’s ability to handle the Philadelphia press. It is no secret that the Black & Gold are always looking to build out of the back. It has been a recurring point of emphasis not only under Porter but also under previous head coach and current U.S. Men’s National Team coach, Gregg Berhalter. It certainly then is no secret to the rest of the MLS either, and opponents like the Union will look to force mistakes and capitalize against the Black & Gold on Wednesday night.
Columbus will have to be sharp and accurate in the team’s passing for the entirety of this matchup, as even one slip up can cost the Black & Gold. If the Black & Gold are able to handle the press and beat it consistently, they will be rewarded with a lot of space to attack, which is something that typically bodes well for the Crew.
Look for Darlington Nagbe to have a significant impact in this game. Arguably one of the hardest players to create turnovers against in the MLS, if Columbus can successfully get him the ball when facing the Union press, that will serve the team well in this match.
Another major key for the Black & Gold is somewhat of a recurring theme in the post-MLS is Back Tournament portion of the 2020 MLS season: transition moments. Both attacking and defensive transition moments are huge in every match, however, they take on a great deal of importance for the Black & Gold in 2020.
In attacking transition, Columbus can take advantage of space afforded to the team by Philadelphia, as the Union typically pushes numbers high up the field in possession. If the Crew is able to quickly transition from defense to attack, the team could exploit this space and create a large number of scoring opportunities with the speed of players such as Pedro Santos, Luis Diaz, Gyasi Zardes and others.
Additionally, Philadelphia is one of the best counter-attacking teams in MLS. Boasting a number of players with great attacking speed including Jamiro Monteiro, Brendan Aaronson and Sergio Santos, as well as the passing ability of former USMNT regular Alejandro Bedoya and the finishing ability of Przybylko, the Union can score in a flash. Thus, the Black & Gold will have to do a good job of both recovering defensively and applying pressure as soon as they lose possession of the ball in order to stall the Philadelphia attack.
Lastly, but perhaps most obviously, the Crew has to take advantage of scoring chances. The saying goes “goals change games” and it is a lesson Columbus has learned quickly in 2020. For example, if the Black & Gold were able to finish any one of the few chances they created against FC Cincinnati on Saturday, there would be a much better feeling around the Crew’s current form. As Columbus continues to compete with the best in the Eastern Conference, chances will be few and far between. The ability for the Black & Gold to take advantage of these chances is paramount to how far they can go in 2020.
Crew supporters are likely sweating this matchup a bit more than they would have a few weeks ago and rightfully so given the contrasting forms between the two sides. That being said, the Union is likely coming to Columbus with the intention of playing soccer, not sitting back, defending and hoping to squeak a goal out of a counter attack or set piece. This will be a relief to Crew supporters everywhere who have seen their team struggle against this game plan recently. If the Black & Gold are able to control the key moments of the match and take advantage of their chances, there is a high likelihood that they can get back to winning ways this Wednesday night.