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Preview: Union vs Crew

What: Union vs Columbus Crew

Where: PPL Park, Chester, PA, USA

When: 8pm, EST


All you need to know about the Philadelphia offense can be summed up by Columbus Crew head coach Robert Warzycha: “If we wanted to take [Gruenebaum] to Philadelphia probably we can, but the smartest thing to do now is give him one game and have him play the rest of the season.”

Columbus could take their starting goalie to a match against an Eastern Conference rival, but… eh.

Warzycha doesn’t think starting a rookie with 45 minutes of MLS experience is such a big deal against the Philadelphia Union. And who can say he’s wrong? Philly’s leading scorer in August is none other than goal machine Brian Carroll.

The past four matches have given Union fans little hope for the playoffs. Montreal won a vengeance game, Chris Rolfe went all Bane on Zac MacMath’s Batman, an extended period of dominance in DC ended in a convoluted tie, and Real Salt Lake escaped PPL Park unscathed. In each match there have been positives, but only in very rare instances have the Union imposed themselves on another team the way they did against Kansas City so soon after John Hackworth took over.

Enter Columbus

Four points behind DC United for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with a game in hand, playing on the same night DC welcomes second place New York. The Crew clearly have something riding on this match. And for the first time in a long time, this is a Columbus team that comes to town with some semblance of excitement in tow.

Since being shut out by DC on August 4th, the Crew have scored nine goals in four games. Striker Jairo Arrieta and creator Federico Higuain have been stellar since joining the club, and they have put the pressure on the back line to close ranks. Should Chad Marshall and company cease leaking goals, the Crew will become a dangerous playoff Cinderella.

Tactically speaking

Whenever dueling 4-5-1 formations are on the pitch — which is what we are likely to see, whether you accept it or not — the onus is on the midfielders to move the ball quickly and effectively. This means movement when the ball is in the back. In fact, one way to get likely starter Freddy Adu more involved is to let Michael Farfan flow into the spaces Brian Carroll leaves. Adu can drift inside and try to connect with the strikers.

A pipe dream? Maybe. But it has to be better than what we have seen from the Union offense lately.

The other advantage is that dropping Farfan deep forces the Columbus midfield to either switch coverage on him or drag a defensive midfielder out of position. Perry Kitchen and all of Real Salt Lake got rough with the Union playmaker. Philly must respond to this by moving Marfan about and letting him get the ball with enough space to run at defenders or pick out runners. At this point, everybody knows who makes the Union offense run. And while the opposition may give Marfan the respect he deserves, John Hackworth pointed out that the referees won’t pick up on it for a while yet.


It’s low. Playing not to make mistakes was a hallmark of the Peter Nowak era, and it cannot become the same under Hackworth. This means taking chances. This means wingers acting dangerous and jetting into the box when the ball is on the opposite touchline.

When Montreal’s Patrice Bernier was asked why his team got so many penalty kicks, he said it’s because they have players in the box. Simple enough, right? So let’s see the Union wide players making those runs. As Chandler Hoffman showed, even causing a commotion can be beneficial once the ball enters the 18-yard area.

Final word

A loss tonight is sayonara to the playoffs. And it’s aloha means goodbye to the post-Nowak good vibes. The rest of the season will be a tryout for 2013, and there will be more of the offseason turnover that can make it hard to get behind/get to know a local team.

So, of course, it’s another must-win. And not only that, it’s a must prove-we-belong. Prove-this-group-has-a-future.

A lot of the strange and absurd moves from last offseason have been corrected, and the clock has been turned back, somewhat, to what many expected the team would look like post-2011. Can the team put on a performance that shows they are almost ready for prime time?

Let’s find out.



  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, Williams
  • MID: Garfan, Carroll, Marfan
  • FWD: Cruz, McInerney, Hoffman


  • GK: Lampson (first start)
  • DEF: Josh Williams, “Orange” Julius James, Chad “The Plan” Marshall, Sebastien “The Law” Miranda
  • MID: Milovan Mirosevic, Danny O’Rourke, “Silly” Dilly Duka, Federico Higuain, Eddie Gaven
  • FWD: Jairo Arrieta



  • OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms)
  • QUESTIONABLE: DF Chris Albright (L groin strain); DF Bakary Soumare (R knee inflammation)


  • OUT: FW Tommy Heinemann (L knee surgery); GK William Hesmer (R hip surgery); MF Bernardo Anor (L knee ACL tear); DF Carlos Mendes (R hamstring strain)
  • DOUBTFUL: DF Rich Balchan (sports hernia rehab); GK Andy Gruenebaum (low back strain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: MF Danny O’Rourke (L ankle sprain); MF Milovan Mirosevic (R ankle inflammation)


  1. This is a must win in a staying out of relegation range is the new playoffs kind of way. I set the bar low and I’m not sure they can make it.

  2. Nate Emeritz says:

    Ref is Yader Reyes. Union are 1-1 (4 yellow-1 red cards for Union, 4 yellow cards for opponents; no PKs) when Reyes is the center.

  3. Uuuuuuuuuuugh. That hurt.

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