It’s another formidable opponent for the Union on Saturday when the club travels to Columbus to take on the Crew (5p.m., Live Well Network). Like last week’s tangle against the Red Bulls in New York, the Union enter a stadium where they have never won (0-3-0), including a pair of losses last season. If you think you can stomach it, Kevin Kinkead has compiled an excellent history of the club’s struggles against the Crew at philadelphiaunion.com. (my worst memory being the 2-1 stoppage time loss last season—a real heart breaker).
Unlike last week, however, the Union can not place their hopes on a team that’s off to a slow start. Columbus, a beast of the east in recent campaigns, is the defending Eastern Conference Champion and has gotten off to another decent start at 2-1-1. The Crew has scored 7 goals in four games while only surrendering 4. They’ve beaten DC United and a somewhat resurgent Chivas USA club, while tying San Jose and losing to Vancouver, a pair of west coast teams still trying to sort things out with .500 records.
But it’s not so much their performance so far that rattles the nerves, it’s the Crew’s consistency in recent years over the long haul and the fact that Philadelphia may still have the ghosts of last week in their minds, as their first-ever point in New York was snatched away in the last minute by Thierry Henry’s electric play. Despite the additions of veterans like Sebastian LeToux, Conor Casey and Jeff Parke, it was easy to remember how much youth the Union is still developing in last week’s loss, and how imperfect some of the midfield components can be when the legs grow tired and the other side has more gas. No matter the mindset, there’s no denying how important this match is for the visiting side. The Union enter play just one point behind Columbus in the East with a game at hand and Philadelphia also holds the 5th and final play-off position in the conference with a number of teams on their heels. A win would be big, to say the least.
There are some interesting things to watch this week. How will John Hackworth handle Casey now that he appears 100-percent? Casey almost saved the day last week, heading-in a goal that brought them even and nearly resulted in a point. And will new acquisition Jose Kleberson (yes, he usually just goes by the single name “Kleberson”, giving the Union one of those soccer-singular phenomena, the one-name player) find his way onto the pitch. Kleberson is an aging veteran with less than a week of acclimation to a new team and league after coming over on loan as part of the Freddy Adu departure. On the other hand, he’s a midfielder with a Brazilian World Cup win on his resume and the Union certainly could have used some help at midfield in the second half last week.
On the Crew side, keep your eyes on Eddie Gavin who currently leads the league with 3 goals. Big, blonde Tyson Wahl has been sharing the corners and free kicks with the dangerous Frederico Higuain and the Crew have netted three balls from their back line off set pieces this season. The Crew boast about five decent play makers around the goal.
On the other hand, they have not steam-rolled anyone but Chivas, and the Union have also shown a knack for drawing corners and open-field dead balls. In fact, one thing that went right in last weekend’s disappointment in Harrison, NJ, was the steady stream of additional corner opportunities that came after the Union had drawn the equalizer. They definitely seem to know what they’re doing in front of the net when the balls come in.
NEW FAN DISCUSSION: I briefly described the basics of the offsides rule in soccer a couple of blogs ago, but astute Union fan Paul points out to me that there are other scenarios where an offside call can result, including being closer to the net than the ball and getting-in behind the goalie. Paul also turned me on to this excellent YouTube video that goes into more detail on the so-called Law 11. Thanks, Paul! If any of you other fans ever catch me missing something, please chime-in! I’m an avid Union/World Cup fan, but relatively new to the game and certainly welcoming of wiser points of view.