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Preview: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Game time: Saturday, 7:30pm ET

TV: The Comcast Network

Do not feel bad if after taking a look down the Columbus Crew roster for Saturday’s showdown you find yourself scratching your head.

In a league designed to be dominated by superstars, the Crew have taken the industrious path alongside team’s like Real Salt Lake and Dallas. Living up to their slogan, “America’s Hardest Working Team,” and with injuries to key midfielders Eddie Gaven and Tony Tchani, the Crew will have to work that much harder against a Union team who again feature a strategic shift in their lineup.

Last week against Dallas, the Union essentially rotated their front five players,—McInerney, Paunovic, Le Toux, Adu and Mapp—through every attacking position. This week’s team sheet appears to be a return to a more traditional 4-4-2 with Freddy Adu being called upon to run the offense from the attacking central midfield role, with Justin Mapp and the recalled Keon Daniel manning the flanks. Holding down the enforcer role for the Crew will be USL call-up Kevin Burns and Adu’s class should shine through as he seeks to justify all of the excitement surrounding his signing.

Against the excellent defensive pairing of Chad Marshall and Julius James, the Union will counter with Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux, both of whom are strong enough to handle the physical battles while having the speed and tenacity to create space for themselves and each other. Sebastien Le Toux’s brace of penalty kicks against Dallas will see his confidence renewed, but whether that results in better touch and finishing during the run of play remains to be seen. Hopefully, some of that confidence will rub off on Danny Mwanga who, despite playing well of late, has looked uncharacteristically shy in front of goal in recent weeks. Adu’s number one task will be to provide both striker’s with the steady pipeline of service they will require to get themselves and the Union attack going.

On the other end, the Union back four, specifically Carlos Valdes, will be looking to secure the defense, following his howler against Dallas. In Columbus, the Union face a team whose offensive struggles have trumped those of the Union, with the Crew netting only slightly more than once a game with a scoring average of 1.125. With Gaven out of the lineup through injury, added pressure will fall to Robbie Rogers to jump start the offense and Sheanon Williams should like his chances against Rogers compared to playing against Brek Shea last week. Despite being listed as doubtful on the injury report, Brian Carroll looks set to shake off a bruised foot and make the start, with Amobi Okugo ready to go, should he be unable to play.

Key Matchups

Danny Mwanga-Sebastien Le Toux-Freddy Adu vs. Chad Marshall-Julius James

The Marshall-James pairing may be the best set of centerbacks the Union will see all season and they are certainly the most in-form. Unlocking them with balls played over the top is not an option given both players aerial abilities and the Union strategy needs to focus on getting in behind the Crew defense rather than going through it.  For Freddy Adu, this mean finding the final pass to streaking runners or playing the ball into the corners for Daniel and Mapp to attack from the edges. Mwanga and Le Toux must be at their active best, making their markers chase them all over the pitch. Whether the Union can put a couple of goals passed the East’s second stingiest defense will come down to Mwanga and Le Toux creating space for each other and exploiting the space behind the defense, specifically the 6′-4″ Marshall.

Carlos Valdes-Danny Califf vs. Andres Mendoza

While Mendoza has tallied an impressive seven goals for the Crew, no one else in the starting lineup has more than two. Emilio Renteria is returning to fitness and could provide firepower off the bench, but the task for the Union defense will be to contain Mendoza, the 33-year-old Peruvian. Given the lack of fear the Union will have for Tommy Heinemann, the 6′-4″ striker who is enjoying his brief cup of coffee in MLS, expect to see both centerbacks focusing much effort on Mendoza as Emmanuel Ekpo has yet to prove himself as an elite creator. Brian Carroll, or Amobi Okugo if Carroll cannot play, should be able to put him in his pocket.

Probable starters

Philadelphia: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon

Defenders: Gabriel Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams

Midfielders: Keon Daniel, Freddy Adu, Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp

Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux

Columbus: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Will Hesmer

Defenders: Josh Gardner, Julius James, Chad Marshall, Sebastian Miranda

Midfielders: Robbie Rogers, Emmanuel Ekpo, Kevin Burns, Justin Meram

Forwards: Andres Mendoza, Tommy Heinemann

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia – DOUBTFUL: MF Brian Carroll (R foot contusion); QUESTIONABLE: FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); PROBABLE: MF Michael Farfan (R quad contusion)

Columbus – OUT: MF Tony Tchani (R knee inflammation); DF Shaun Francis (L adductor strain); DOUBTFUL: GK Alex Riggs (L oblique strain); MF Eddie Gaven (R lower leg contusion); Jeff Cunningham (R knee inflammation); QUESTIONABLE: MF Dejan Rusmir (L calf tightness); MF Rich Balchan (L adductor strain); PROBABLE: FW Emilio Renteria (L quad strain)


Union 1–1 Columbus. Despite standing atop the Eastern Conference, neither of these teams score a lot of goals. Defense is the focus for both coaches and in a match with first place at stake, players will take a cagey approach to this contest and will likely be looking to avoid making mistakes rather than taking the attacking impetus on themselves to go out and win the game for their club. For the Union, Freddy Adu’s first full week of training with the Union will see him take over the midfield from his projected central midfield spot. If he can prove that he is the spark the Union have been missing, he might be able to steer his team through to a valuable three road points. However, as Adu said himself, it will take a few weeks for him to get fully acclimated to his teammates, so perhaps we will have to wait a little longer to see him dominate his first MLS opponent.


  1. I would be happy with that lineup if we play a 4-4-2 diamond. Personally I would still sit Mapp and play Marfan. And I would even play Jack Mac instead of Le Toux.

    But compared to the other lineup/formation possibilities, I’d be happy with that one.

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