The Columbus return to action Wednesday night just four short days after the team’s victory against the Chicago Fire in the final match at historic Crew Stadium. The Crew will face a familiar Eastern Conference foe in the Philadelphia Union.
Philadelphia and Columbus have met already this season on opening day in a match that resulted in a goalless draw. The Union and the Crew are neighbors in the Eastern Conference Standings, separated by only a point. This match will prove to be one of the biggest MLS tests for the Black & Gold so far this season as they look to defeat one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference on the road for the first time this year.
Here is what to expect from Philadelphia and what the Crew can do to take another three points on the road.
Philadelphia Union at a Glance:
Record: 4-2-3, 15 points
League Form: D-W-W-W-D
Leading Scorer: Cory Burke, Kacper Pryzbylko (3)
Assist Leader: Jamiro Monteiro (4)
Player to Watch: Jamiro Monteiro
Originally from the Netherlands, Monteiro quickly made a name for himself in the Union midfield when he joined on loan from FC Metz in 2019. The Union was so impressed, the team later purchased Monteiro’s right outright before the 2020 campaign.
Monteiro has been on a tear recently for Philadelphia, including four assists in his last six matches for the Union. Known for his individual skill and 1 v. 1 ability, Monteiro has the ability to beat defenders before playing the ball off to his teammates in scoring positions. He can play anywhere in the midfield, but most commonly features centrally or on the left side of the midfield.
Either way, the Black & Gold will be keen on his whereabouts on Wednesday night in hopes to limit his recent production.
How Philadelphia Union play:
The Union and head coach Jim Curtain have one of the most consistent and well-constructed game plans in the MLS. This has played a large part in the team’s recent rise to the top of the Eastern Conference, including their MLS Supporters’ Shield in 2020.
Generally speaking, Philadelphia plays a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond shape in midfield that regularly causes problems for the opponents. With this midfield diamond, the Union is usually able to create situations where the central midfield players outnumber the opponents, which is a good spot to be in most of the time. This numerical advantage enables Philadelphia to move the ball freely in the midfield and create dangerous chances when attacking.
Another staple of the Union game plan is the speed in which the team attacks after winning the ball. This can again be credited to the formation, as the two strikers are usually able to take up good positions quickly when their teammates win the ball back, enabling them to quickly organize an attack.
Defensively, Philadelphia struggle at times when forced to defend for long periods of time as that is not usually something the team doesn’t look to do. To counteract this, the Union often try and win the ball back from the opponent in the first few seconds upon giving the ball away. This tactic, known as counterpressing, is something that Caleb Porter and the Crew regularly try to do as well which will make this a key area of focus for both teams.
How the Crew can win:
Porter and the Crew have built up considerable momentum recently with three wins in a row and a win on Wednesday would help continue that momentum for the Black & Gold. In order to do this, Columbus must do a few things well.
As mentioned above, Philadelphia has at times been rather unconvincing when asked to defend for long stretches of time. This certainly does not mean the team is incapable, but has at least looked uncomfortable in certain moments. Thus, Columbus should look to exploit this, making the Union defend as much as possible.
This does not necessarily mean that the Crew should bomb forward as much and as often as possible. Rather, the Black & Gold should look to maintain possession for long spurts of time and force Philadelphia to defend accordingly. Not only will this challenge the Union, it will also play into one of Columbus’ strengths as a team, allowing the team to grow in confidence and rhythm in the game.
Philadelphia has established itself as one of the best teams in MLS in transition moments. Both in attacking and defensive transition, the Union has a set style and principles for success. The Crew will need to have a huge focus on these transition moments on Wednesday night.
When the Black & Gold win the ball, they need to do a good job of establishing possession and avoiding Philadelphia’s counterpress. If they are able to do this, it will help dominate possession. When Columbus does lose possession, there needs to be a real focus on quickly applying pressure to the ball and quickly recovering to defensive positions. These two things will make it difficult for the Union to play forward and attack in transition, which eliminates a large part of their attacking threat.
Lastly, the Crew must do a good job of managing the game. A lot of times this is used in reference to time wasting and slowing the game down but not in this scenario.
Philadelphia is one of the better teams in the league and will definitely have moments on Wednesday night. Whether that means goals or dominating play for periods of time remains to be seen but the Union is good enough to find success. The Black & Gold will do well if they are able to limit these moments and control their own emotions and play in these periods, riding out these moments out before looking to influence the game again.
This game will be a great barometer for Columbus as the team reaches the mid-portion of the MLS campaign and could be a preview of a future MLS Cup playoff match later this year. If the Crew can force Philadelphia to defend, dominate transition moments and manage the game, the Black & Gold could very well bring three points back to Columbus and win their fourth match in a row.