The last time the Columbus Crew faced the Philadelphia Union, it was a second-minute mistake that set the tone for the entire match. Columbus lost 1-0, the second loss of a three-match streak where the Crew was defeated without scoring a goal. Since then, the Black & Gold found a recipe that works and now sit on the better end of a four-match unbeaten streak.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, is in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference, sitting on 29 points — tied for the best mark — through 17 games played. Prior to a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire midweek, the Union had gone eight games without a defeat.
To see where the visiting Philadelphia stands close to halfway through the season, Massive Report spoke with someone who knows the team well. Joe Lister of the Brotherly Game spoke with Massive Report earlier this season, but the Union don’t look the same this weekend as the team has all season.
Massive Report: Since these two sides last met, Philadelphia’s stayed close to the top of the standings but mostly through draws, with seven out of the last 11. Does that surprise you? Either way, what is the Union lacking that isn’t getting them victories instead?
Brotherly Game: The draws aren’t surprising, especially at this point. The Union are a defensive team, as noted by 1. a top center back duo 2. the best left back in MLS 3. the best no. 6 in MLS 4. an up and coming USMNT prospect at right back.
The attack, however, is not that. Daniel Gazdag is really all that has been pushing them forward, since Julian Carranza isn’t scoring all that much (though he’s still a very productive player) and Mikael Uhre is taking a slow start. I personally think that Uhre will follow the David Gass theorem (for context, the idea that players new to MLS need about one year to adapt to the league), but that remains to be seen.
Once Uhre really clicks, and if the Union can start getting the homegrowns on the bench some real minutes with quality opportunities, we start having fewer conversations about the team’s weaknesses.
MR: On Wednesday, José Martínez earned a red card and he sits out Sunday against the Crew. What is Philadelphia going to lack without the team’s starting midfielder? Also, who takes his place and how will the Union’s plans change without him?
BG: For starters, Martínez is a huge part of the team’s soul. He’s a fierce competitor who’s able to win balls and do the dirty work. There aren’t many players like him out there, and he’s tough to replace.
In the past, head coach Jim Curtin has tried Jack Elliott at the No. 6 instead of Martínez. The issue here is that Elliott isn’t mobile/agile enough to hold down that position, and a lot gets by him. He’s simply uncomfortable, though he’s also the most likely option against the Crew. Leon Flach can also play the No. 6, but this would leave his spot on the left side of the Union’s midfield diamond open. Since Jack McGlynn won’t be able to play due to the U20 final, Flach is doubtful. Cole Turner, who’s name I have only typed once before in my life, can also play that role. However, he’s not exactly battle tested, and I doubt Curtin will go with him.
MR: The Union and Columbus each have strong defenses, with Philly leading the Eastern Conference with the fewest goals allowed. Outside of a goalkeeper dropping a ball into his own net, how do you think the Union does in a defense vs. defense battle? What’s your score prediction and who do you think shines for Philadelphia?
JL: I think that the Union will rebound after a tough loss at Chicago. This is a 2-0 win and a frustrated and motivated Philadelphia goes wild. Quite simply, I think that attitude is what gets the Union over the hump. Recent frustrations make this a possible turning point in the season, and for the Union, two goals is a lot. I think that this is a chance for Philly to turn the page and really take off into the back half of the season.