Eye on the Philadelphia Union’s enemy: Columbus Crew

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MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 05: CF Montreal midfielder Joaquin Torres (10) plays the ball during the Philadelphia Union versus the CF Montreal game on March 05, 2022, at Montreal Olympic Stadium in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)

The Columbus Crew have not scored against the Philadelphia Union since 2020. Wait…what? That can’t be right. And yet:

November 1, 2020: Columbus Crew 2-1 Philadelphia Union
April 18, 2021: Columbus Crew 0-0 Philadelphia Union
June 23, 2021: Philadelphia Union 1-0 Columbus Crew
October 3, 2021: Philadelphia Union 3-0 Columbus Crew
April 9, 2022: Philadelphia Union 1-0 Columbus Crew
July 3, 2022: Columbus Crew 0-0 Philadelphia Union

Score lines, however, do not tell the whole story. In their most recent match last July, Columbus had yet to field star striker Cucho Hernandez (who would make his debut off the bench in the following game against the Chicago Fire and score the game-winner). With their 16-4 advantage in shots (5 on target compared to 2 for the Union), a difference-maker like Hernandez could easily have, well, made the difference.

Can the Union beat the Columbus Crew again?

One pattern you may notice in those games is that home-field advantage appears to make a noticeable difference. You actually have to go back to 2016 to find the last time the home team lost this fixture in the league (the Union won all three matches against the Crew that year, once at home and twice away). You also have to consider the Union’s UNBEATEN home record last year.

Given those records and the high expectations for the Union this year, it’s tempting to write this game off as a guaranteed win. But it’s important to remember that this is not the same Columbus Crew. Their biggest change comes on the sidelines, with Wilfried Nancy taking up the head coaching role after last year pushing Jim Curtin for Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year honors (and many thought he deserved to win ahead of the Union boss, which must be considered even though they were, of course, wrong), and guiding his unheralded Montreal team to a close second place in the Eastern Conference.

The Columbus Crew should at worst be fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the East this year. Their ceiling is much higher with Nancy at the helm, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them pushing for a top-four finish. The biggest question marks are over the team’s depth, which shouldn’t be an issue for opening day other than at goalkeeper, where they will be missing starting keeper Eloy Room.

Despite rumors about traffic violations stemming from last year, it appears that attempting to get a green card is at fault for Room’s absence (see this article from Massive Report for more information). While it’s tempting to make jokes about this change actually hurting the Union after Room’s second-minute own goal handed them the win in last season’s home match against the Crew, the reality is any team would struggle to replace a keeper of Room’s quality.

While I anticipate Columbus to be quite good this season, and think their attack will cause the Union more problems than we as fans might expect, I still can’t look past the Union for this game. I predict a 2-1 Union win, with a Cucho Hernandez goal tying things up after a Julián Carranza opener, only for last year’s snubbed MVP candidate Dániel Gazdag to win things for our Boys in Blue in the final ten minutes.

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Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire