5 Things to Watch Ahead of Philadelphia Union vs Columbus Crew

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The Philadelphia Union is coming off an impressive performance against MLS newcomers, Charlotte FC! this weekend they face up against one of the better sides in the MLS this season, the Columbus Crew. Here are five things to watch heading into Saturday’s game!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych

Philadelphia Union Is Defying All Logic 

The first thing I wanted to point out in this article is the way the Union is playing right now and how it almost contradicts how their style is overall perceived. The Union has been playing a very aggressive, high-line pressing game and trying to hit teams on the break after forcing a mistake from their opposition. This way of playing sounds great in theory but it can be very risky and leave you open, especially if the team they’re playing against can pass around the pressing traps the Union set. 

It’s a very risky way to play, in my opinion, but the Union has been extremely impressive in the way they’ve executed the tactic and system. They’ve only conceded two goals so far this season and both of those came in the first two games of the season, since then the back four have become a much more stable unit and gained that composure when they have the ball.  

On the attacking front, the Union has been happy to not have much of the ball throughout their games, they’re averaging just below 40% possession in all their games this season and they’re proving the whole ‘your opposition can’t score if they have less of the ball’, as they have nine goals in five games and are currently unbeaten. 

The players deserve huge credit for the way they’ve executed the system so far, they’ve been a huge part of this early success, but Jim Curtin and his coaching staff also deserve huge praise and credit for adapting their old system into a much more rewarding one, it takes a lot of guts for a manager to change their system, especially given the fact that it wasn’t like Philly were struggling before this season.

Columbus Crew Will Come to Attack 

The Crew has lowkey impressed me this season, one loss all season and that was last week to a solid side in Nashville, they’ve beaten Toronto and got a draw against NYRB, but it’s mainly their style of play that’s impressed me. 

Columbus will line up for the game in Philly in a 4-2-3-1 formation and even though Zardes played as the lone striker and Luis Diaz played on the right wing, they’ll be replaced with Miguel Berry and Yaw Yeboah. Columbus is a highly efficient, dominant attacking side that will keep you under pressure for the entire 90 minutes. 

Averaging 56.2% possession this season, 16.6 shots per 90 minutes, and 5.4 shots on target per 90 minutes (all of which are very high compared to the rest of the league this season) Columbus poses a serious attacking threat and the Union will have to play great, defensive football for the entire 90 minutes if they’re going to come out of this one with a positive result.

Uhre and Carranza Finally Set to Unite

A partnership that’s been teased and wanted since the start of the season for the Union will finally make its debut and that’s the forward partnership between summer signings Julian Carranza and Mikael Uhre. Or will it… 

I’m trying not to jinx anything here, I really am not, but I almost didn’t want to write this bit in given the fact that Uhre was meant to make his home debut earlier in the season and then got injured pre-game, then Carranza got sent off in the next game as Uhre was about to make his debut, so it’s been a bit of a cursed partnership. 

Anyway, ignoring all the bad things of the past, Jim Curtin confirmed in his pre-match press conference that Uhre and Carranza would finally unite and it’s about time Uhre was unleashed upon the MLS. This is really exciting for the Union as, even though they’ve been doing well without this partnership, I really do have a feeling this Carranza and Uhre link-up will be special and one of the most feared things in the MLS as the season goes on. It was about time Union fans had a couple of strikers that terrorized the league for them.

Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe are Ones to Watch 

In these pieces, I always highlight between one and three opposition players that the Union needs to look out for during the match and the two I’ve picked for the Crew are attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan and defensive midfielder Darlington Nagbe. 

Zelarayan has been running the show this season over in Columbus, four goals and one assist in five games has him up there in the rankings with some of the best players in the MLS. Zelarayan is a real maestro in the midfield who loves to move around in the central position and sit in the pockets of space between the opposition’s midfield and defense. Jose Martinez has done a very good job so far at keeping a lot of the best CAM talents quiet but this might be his toughest test so far this season. 

Darlington Nagbe has been a fantastic general in midfield for Columbus this season, making interception after interception and winning any duel that’s come near him, whether it be on the ground or in the air. Nagbe has been great at quickly turning defense into attack and his battle against Daniel Gazdag will be a really interesting one to watch given Gazdag has been on fire all season.

The Crew Are Weak Defensively 

While I mentioned earlier that Columbus has impressed me with their offensive style of play, they’ve been a real disappointment defensively. There’s no real structure to the way they defend and players of their back four can be found way out of position at times, and if they do that against the Union, well it could be a bloodbath. 

It also doesn’t help the Crew that their goalkeeper just hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. I’ll give Eloy Room the excuse of not having a great defensive four in front of him but when a keeper has only kept one clean sheet all season while having a save percentage of 66, one of the lowest in the league, it’s time to start pointing fingers at them too. 

Overall, the Union is really set up to do damage to the Crew in this game. They’ve proven time and time again that they’re comfortable sitting back and letting the other team play, which is what the Crew love to do, and then hit them on the break when they make a mistake. If the Union play as they have been, I have a feeling this could get a little out of hand score-wise, but they have to be careful because the Crew can damage them back offensively.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych

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