The MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew host our Supporters’ Shield winners Philadelphia Union tomorrow at 5:30 PM EST. This is only one in a handful of times that the Supporters Shield winner (most points during the regular season) has played the MLS Cup winner to start the season. I think should be a tradition that continues. However, I feel as though it shouldn’t be just one of the games on the weekend, but rather the first game of the MLS season from here on out. They could even have a trophy as they do in the Premier League for the Community Shield match.
In terms of the match itself it sets up to be an interesting one where the outcome is very up in the air. Columbus hosts and, quite frankly, have the better team. They won the cup last year as stated before and improved their squad further over the offseason. The Union however, lost their two most important players last season (Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson) of whom they only brought in reinforcements for McKenzie in the form of Stuart Findlay. They have brought up youth players to the first team as they are known to do, but the depth at the #10 position is definitely a worry. Now how could the outcome be up in the air after all the points I just laid out?
Well for starters the Union is coming off a stellar performance against Deportivo Saprissa in the CCL where they won 4-0 in the second leg (5-0 aggregate). This is only a precursor though, as Columbus also advanced on the same scoreline. The real eye-opener from the Union match was Jamiro Monteiro. He played last year in a more box-to-box midfield role, and even though he did well that is not his preferred position. He is now in that preferred position playing the #10 sitting just behind the strikers. He lit Subaru Park on fire Wednesday night scoring two goals, cementing himself as the designated penalty kick taker as well as the first name on the team sheet, and to top, it off assisted both other goals as well. Union fans talked about where the goals would come from for the Union this season and it was always, “Santos, Burke, Kacper, or Fontana, one of those guys will surely step up”, but I don’t think anyone thought Jamiro would have the start he has had.
I know it’s only one game, but you could just see the comfortability in his play that will all but surely carry over to the MLS season. It will be a battle of two solid back lines and two killer #10’s as Columbus’ Zelarayan is looking to have another stellar season. A big blow to the Crew is the injury suffered by young star midfielder Aidan Morris in their CCL game this past week. I did not see the play in which it occurred, but I read that he landed awkwardly, was down for a good amount of time, and was later seen in crutches and a leg brace. Not ideal for the Crew or Morris who was looking forward to improving on his solid rookie season last year. Being a defensive/box to box midfielder this leaves a hole in Columbus’s midfield in just the areas Jamiro and Fontana like to occupy. Nobody wishes injury on anyone, but this injury could be the key to the Union stealing 3 points away. The game has been built up and is somewhat of a revenge game for the Union as well. After losing both fixtures last season to the Crew in tight fashion both times the Union will look to rectify that tomorrow.
This is a position the Union thrives in. Being the underdog is something they have always enjoyed and after losing Brenden and Mark in the offseason it will be interesting to see how the team gels together to start the year. I am confident the Boys in Blue will have another good year, but as stated in my prediction for the season I can’t see Columbus taking anything less than 3 points in this match. I think Columbus’ squad is phenomenal, and they will also be matching the Union in terms of form which I think early on is incredibly important. If the Union does lose it won’t affect my outlook on this team and the season ahead. I’m just hoping for a well-played game where the Union creates good chances and finishes better than they did in the first half on Wednesday. I hope everyone reading this enjoys the game and boy is it good to have MLS Soccer back again!
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Mandatory Credit: Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League