Match previews / Union

Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Columbus Crew

Game time: Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

The first place Columbus Crew pay a visit to Chester tonight as Philadelphia Union’s extended home stand heads into its toughest stretch. Columbus (10-4-4) has the best record in the Eastern Conference, and they’ve been one of the league’s best clubs for several years now. The Union (4-8-3) sit in 6th place, having gifted away points in recent games where they’ve played well enough that it looked like they’d pull out the win.

For the Union, this begins a very tough three-game stretch over the next 10 days that also includes matches against Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas, who sit in second and third place in the Western Conference, respectively. If the Union can take five to six points from this stretch, that will be a definite achievement. To do so, their defense is going to have to hold the line and pitch at least one shutout, something they haven’t done yet this season.

Columbus is led by Argentine great Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but they’ll be playing without one of their best players, Eddie Gaven. Fellow midfielder Robbie Rogers has a knee injury and could sit as well, while holding midfielder Brian Carroll is just returning from injury. Their health could determine whether the Union have a shot in this game, the toughest match-up they’ve had at PPL Park since opening the stadium in June.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Cristian Arrieta, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco

Midfielders: Eduardo Coudet, Stefani Miglioranzi, Fred, Sebastien Le Toux

Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney

Columbus

Goalkeeper: Will Hesmer

Defenders: Shaun Francis, Andy Iro, Chad Marshall, Danny O’Rourke

Midfielders: Robbie Rogers, Brian Carroll, Adam Moffat, Emmanuel Ekpo

Forwards: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Emilio Renteria

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture); PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (L groin strain); FW Alejandro Moreno (R knee contusion); FW Danny Mwanga (R ankle sprain); MF Roger Torres (R ankle sprain).

Columbus: OUT: MF Eddie Gaven (concussion); DF Gino Padula (L knee inflammation); DOUBTFUL: MF Robbie Rogers (L knee inflammation).

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. Columbus attackers

Philadelphia’s back line continues to play relatively well, and they haven’t given up any gift goals that were clearly their fault in two games. Michael Orozco has been playing right back while Cristian Arrieta has played left center back, a reversal of positions from earlier in the spring. They’ve done relatively well lately, though Orozco seems a bit more invisible out on the flank. Danny Califf and Jordan Harvey man the other spots, and they’ve been among the club’s most consistent players. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz has played fairly well, but he hasn’t made key saves when necessary in recent games.

For the Crew, Schelotto has clearly lost a step, but he still knows his way around a field well enough to make an impact, with five goals and six assists this year. Emilio Renteria has been starting in place of human battering ram Steven Lenhart, and he has four goals compared to Lenhart’s two. Lenhart is still seeing time as a regular substitute, as is forward Jason Garey. Missing Gaven cuts down on the service to the front and could render them less effective.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia midfield vs. Columbus midfield

The absence of Gaven is huge for Columbus. He’s been perhaps the team’s best player, and sooner or later, the rangy midfielder going to draw attention overseas. That said, his injury coincides with the return of holding midfielder Brian Carroll, whose own brief injury-driven absence led to a momentary dip in form for the Crew. Robbie Rogers remains a tantalizing talent on the wing, but having taken 35 shots and only putting eight on goal, with one score, he’s once again playing nowhere near his potential. He could sit today due to injury. Emmanuel Ekpo and Adam Moffat hold down the other two midfield slots.

Justin Mapp is the new midfielder for the Union, and if he gets a start, it could bump Sebastien Le Toux to forward and struggling forward Alejandro Moreno to the bench. The Union typically deploy two holding midfielders and two attacking ones in a 4-4-2 that plays more as a 4-2-2-2 or 4-1-3-2, depending on the personnel. Fred has played better on the left flank but remains a center midfielder out of position, while Le Toux has been all-league whether he’s on the right wing or at forward. New acquisition Eduardo Coudet and Stefani Miglioranzi will likely hold down the center of the field for a team that has played solid possession ball. It wasn’t until they faced the league’s best box-to-box midfielder in Shalrie Joseph last week that this faltered. Carroll is another good one, but taking Gaven out of the lineup evens things up a bit more.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia forwards vs. Columbus defense

Chad Marshall is a former defender of the year, and Andy Iro is a major up-and-comer. At 6-4, 190, and 6-5, 205, this is a very big and very athletic pair of center backs. With goalkeeper Will Hesmer, they’ve anchored a defense that has given up the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference. Fullbacks Danny O’Rourke and Shaun Francis are expected to start, with longtime national team stalwart Frankie Hejduk seeing some pine time lately.

Opposing them will be Moreno and Danny Mwanga. Moreno has struggled since he was injured this spring. All the dirty work he does hasn’t been accompanied by the great passes that lead to goals. Whether the difference is Le Toux’s move to midfield or his own struggles, it just hasn’t been there for him of late, and he’s taking a physical beating in games as referees choose to heed his reputation for diving instead of the facts before them. Columbus is his last team, however, and he’s probably earned the right to play against them. Mwanga hasn’t scored recently, as his torrid form has fallen off as teams know to watch for him now.

Edge: Columbus

Individual match-up to watch

Chad Marshall vs. Danny Mwanga

Marshall may be the league’s best defender. Mwanga may be the rookie of the year. Everything in Mwanga’s game depends on timing, and Marshall is good at throwing that off.

Prediction

1-1 draw. Home field matters, but Columbus is a terrific team.

(Photo: Nicolae Stoian)

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