Next up for Union: The Crew Kids

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The Philadelphia Union did almost everything right against New England in the club’s home opener last week. Saturday in Columbus (6 p.m., March 22, TCN) about the only thing supporters can ask for is more finishes. Their opponents are riding high early, but are young and possibly vulnerable. 

Last Week’s Effort

The Union managed six legitimate scoring chances in roughly the first 35 minutes against New England and added several more in the second half. But only one chance went in, a dangerous ratio in the MLS where failing to put the nail in the coffin can come back to haunt a club (a very recent example being the road opener in Portland, which turned into a 1-1 draw in the closing seconds). The Union very nearly had to settle for less last week as well, as The Revs single best chance on net was a good one, a boot off a cross that Philadelphia goaltender Zac MacMath deflected while sliding in front of the goal.

Also unnerving was the one that did go in for the Union: a Sebastien Le Toux strike off a nice pass from Leo Fernandez—who would not have been playing had Brian Carroll not gotten the flu.

Same Cast Against Crew?

This week in Ohio, the Union hopes to generate the same sort of ball-control and feeds into the box, only with a little extra scoring touch, something this team seems built to accomplish even if they haven’t shown it yet on the pitch. From the looks of things, they’ll have to do it without Conor Casey and Sheanon Williams, who both continue to nurse injuries. Carroll only came down with his flu bug on Saturday and may or may not have had enough time to get better and regain strength. But the rest of the pieces that have been clicking so far this season are all healthy and ready to go. 

Columbus has played just once so far in the young season, easily handling DC United in Washington 3-0 back on March 8. But it’s hard to know whether that score is an extension of the Crew’s 4-0-1 pre-season during which goals came easy, or more an indication that once again this season, DC is simply not a very good soccer club.  One of the goals came on a penalty kick. The other two came off crosses that were not particularly well defended. 

Crew/DC United highlights: http://www.thecrew.com/news/2014/03/highlights-crew-3-dc-united-0 

As for Columbus, the team subtracted more than it added during the off-season, at least on the pitch. Gone are veteran defender Chad Marshall and the offensive-minded Eddie Gaven and Danny O’Rourke. The average age of the Columbus roster is now just 24, according to http://www.thecrew.com. The biggest addition is new Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, only 40, who not too long ago was playing center back for the USMNT. 

Berhalter is preaching a “believe in yourselves” mind set to his young squad, which is all very fine and good until your youngsters face a team like the Union who’ve re-stocked with marquis players and have one of the league’s deepest rosters. There are plenty of players on the Crew side who were there last year when Columbus finished five points behind the Union in eighth place in the MLS Eastern Conference.  A good start by Philadelphia on Saturday night and memories of last season’s 41 point, 17 loss reality may start overwhelming the new coach’s cheerleading philosophy.  On the the other hand, Philadelphia—as dazzling as they’ve been in terms of ball movement and control for much of the early going—still has to get better at taking advantage of chances. Failing to do so early could lead to an upset, especially in front of what will likely be an up-tempo, home-opener crowd in Ohio.

Crew Members To Watch

The hot hands last week were Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta, one of the more veteran Crew players at 30, who got the first tally on a nice feed from Josh Williams, one of the younger Crew stars at 25. Third year Crew forward Federico Higuain picked-up where he left off last season, scoring the penalty kick and later converted a nice cross. The Argentinian was the club’s MVP last season with 11 goals, second behind Dominic Oduro’s 13. Oduro did not play last week, although he’s listed as active.

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