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Crossing the Touchline: Crew vs. Philadelphia Union

Let’s learn a little more about the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Charlotte FC v Philadelphia Union Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The last two weeks for the Columbus Crew featured tough tests of the early season. It doesn’t get easier for the Black & Gold on Saturday with a trip to the Philadelphia Union.

Philadelphia sits atop the Eastern Conference standings with 13 points. The team’s four wins and one draw puts it in second place in the way-too-early Supporters’ Shield race, trailing only on goal differential to the Western Conference’s LAFC. Saturday marks the first of two matchups between the Crew and the Union in 2022.

To get you prepared for the game, Massive Report spoke with Joe Lister from Brotherly Game. to get a better sense of what Philadelphia brings into this match.

Massive Report: So far this season, the Union has given up just two goals in five matches and none in the last three games. What’s Philadelphia’s secret on defense this season?

Brotherly Game: Quite frankly, the Union is just really good. Andre Blake is (in my opinion) MLS’s best goalkeeper, and he sits behind one of MLS’s best backlines. The Union doesn’t allow good shots from outside the box — they just published a statistic about how they haven’t given up a goal from outside the box in 45.66 games — and within the box, it’s very tough to beat Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott.

The Union’s one defensive weakness is Nathan Harriel on the right side of the field. There are a few times where he’ll lose his man down the side, or he’ll get drawn into the center of the box and get tangled up, but nobody has been able to capitalize thus far. Harriel is very good at his recoveries and has been adequate at worst for Philly.

MR: When Kacper Przybylko and Jamiro Monteiro left after last season, a lot thought that maybe Philadelphia would have a gap that other teams could exploit, or at least cause a dip in scoring. This hasn’t happened with nine goals so far this year. Who slid into the role that Crew supporters should watch for this weekend and how has the team adjusted to new people in those roles?

BG: Since we haven’t seen a lot from Mikael Uhre, the Union still doesn’t have its true No. 9 up top. Head coach Jim Curtin has been rotating between different combinations of his forwards, and the best man up top has proved to be Julian Carranza, who has had a great comeback season after being smothered in Miami. He’s been involved in three goals in five games since he came into town, which is a fraction of the time it took for him to be involved in three goals in Miami. He seems very happy in Philly, and has praised the coaching staff for welcoming him and wanting him to succeed.

The real offensive threat is Daniel Gazdag. He took some time to get accustomed to MLS after coming into the squad in the middle of the 2021 campaign, but he’s started off hot this season. He’s scored in four straight games, which tied the Union’s record. The Union has only lost once when Gazdag scores, so Columbus will want to put some pressure on him if it wants points against Philly.

MR: Philadelphia has defied the parity that MLS hopes for, getting into the MLS Cup playoffs every season since 2018. What’s your prediction for the Union this season and where do you see the team ending when the season is said and done?

BG: There’s only one option for the Union this season: an MLS Cup Trophy. Philadelphia has checked every other box over the last few years, and as the pundits note, the team will simply become boring if it can’t achieve MLS Cup glory. Quite frankly, I would put the house on the Union winning it all this year if I was 1.) 21 years old and 2.) owned a house.

Philadelphia has put together consistent growth year after year, and they’ve really reached the point where they deserve to get compared to the Seattles and Portlands of the league. They can be the best in the league and they know it, and I think that they’re determined to win it all.