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U in Preview — Matchday 2: Columbus Versus Philadelphia

After a week off, the Philadelphia Union are set to return to action this Saturday, when they host unbeaten Columbus Crew SC at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, PA.

First, Philly Football Daily takes a look at the visitors:

Columbus Crew SC (2-0-0):

Right now, Columbus look nothing like a team that needs saving.

Crew SC, as they are currently known, might not be around this time next year. Columbus could be playing their final season in Ohio, as a proposed move to Austin, Texas continues to loom.

In the meantime, the Crew have gotten off to a perfect start.

Columbus blanked “rivals” and reigning MLS Cup winners Toronto Football Club two-nil at BMO Field in Canada in their first match. They then staved off Montreal Impact 3-2 last week, in their home opener.

Players to Watch:

Columbus also look nothing like the outfit that nearly surprised the league last Fall, when the Ohioan club narrowly missed out on making MLS Cup after falling one-nil on aggregate to the eventual winners, TFC.

They’ve parted ways with several notable first-team players from last season.

Justin Meram was shipped South to Orlando City SC, Norwegian Ola Kamara was swapped for United States international and LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes, while both Kekuta Manneh and Waylon Francis have moved on to new pastures, too.

Gyasi Zardes, ST

Mentioned above is Gyasi Zardes, who is quickly settling into manager Greg Berhalter’s team and filling the void left by last season’s club-leading goalscorer Ola Kamara.

Zardes is, based on his numbers so far, mounting a run at the MLS Golden Boot award. In two matches, the Crew’s new signing has three goals, which makes Zardes an obvious player for fans and Union defenders to keep tabs on.

Zach Steffen, GK

It’s highly unlikely that goalkeeper Zach Steffen, a former Philadelphia Union academy player, will put the ball into the back of Andre Blake’s net this Saturday. Instead, he’ll be tasked with doing the opposite at the other end.

In each passing game, the Columbus No. 1 continues to make a strong case to succeed Tim Howard and Brad Guzan as the future No. 1 for the USMNT. Steffen, 22, is visibly mature beyond his years and is the anchor of the Crew’s backline.

Expect Steffen to be vocal throughout the match, barking orders of positioning and marking toward his defenders. Also expect the Coatesville, PA native to make a few big-time saves in his homecoming on Saturday.

Federico Higuaín, MF

Federico Higuaín scored his 50th career MLS goal in last week’s match against Montreal. The Argentine is a player Union midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin will have the tall-task of tracking all day long.

“Pipa” has a natural tendency to roam the pitch freely and an ability to spray passes that split opposing defenders, switch the field, and spring the Crew’s attack. Even at age 33, Higuaín is a real game changer.

Projected Starting XI: 

Here’s how the visitors are predicted to lineup in Chester this Saturday:

Starting XI Opponent.jpg

Injuries and Suspensions: 

Mike Grella (OUT) and Gaston Sauro (OUT); Josh Williams (Questionable)

Philadelphia Union (1-0-0): 

It remains to be seen how the Union’s bye week will affect the team’s momentum heading into Saturday’s match against the red-hot Crew.

Philadelphia’s week absence from MLS play, of course, was due to their opponent, Seattle Sounders, having a midweek CONCACAF Champions League match against Club Deportivo Guadalajara in Mexico.

MLS has rescheduled the Union’s match at Century Link Field against Seattle to Wednesday, September 19. 

Following a comfortable and deserved two-nil win at home, against a nine-man New England Revolution on March 3, the Union will be looking to extend their own unbeaten start to the season and halt the momentum of an in-form Columbus side.

Jim Curtin’s team were comfortable in possession and showed a tenacity in running at the New England backline all night. However, it should be noted that the Union played up a man for more than 85 minutes and up two from then on after.

Far from clinical in front of goal, the Union’s offense will look to do better by their scoring opportunities on Saturday.

Players to Watch:

Curtin isn’t expected to make many changes, if any at all, to the Starting XI that defeated New England 2-0 last time out.

CJ Sapong, ST

CJ Sapong, who signed a new, two-year contract with the club on Wednesday, scored one of the goals in the Union’s match against the Revs. Last season’s club-leading goalscorer with 16 league goals arguably should’ve had as many in the last match.

Sapong was presented several good chances in front of New England’s rookie goalkeeper Matt Turner, but the Union’s frontman was, admittedly, not clinical enough on the night.

But it happens to even the best forwards, and Sapong is currently in the best form of his MLS career.

Sapong will be a handful for Columbus’ center-backs all night, using his body to hold up the ball for the Union’s attack, and he’ll draw fouls in key scoring-areas for Medunjanin, or the next man, to do the rest.

Bořek Dočkal, CAM

According to Curtin, in his weekly press conference held on Wednesday, Bořek Dočkal will take the field on Saturday, although the Czech international midfielder is reportedly not fit enough to last a full 90 minutes.

Fans who were hoping to see the the Union’s most notable offseason signing debut in the home opener against New England will finally get their chance on Saturday, against the Crew.

Dočkal is on loan from Chinese Super League club Henan Jianye FC and will remain with the Union for the remainder of the season. It remains to be seen whether the Union’s new No. 10 will start on the bench or in the Starting XI on Saturday.

Homegrown player and Newark, Delaware native Anthony Fontana started at Dočkal’s preferred CAM position last time out, logging 65 minutes and scoring on his MLS and Philadelphia Union debut.

Ahead of Dočkal’s debut for the club, here are some of the Czech’s 2016/2017 highlights.

Auston Trusty, CB

Like Jack Elliott, Auston Trusty’s defensive partner to his right, Philadelphia’s other Homegrown debutant had a quiet, but impressive showing in the club’s first shutout of the season.

Trusty had several shaky passes early on, as it was to be expected, but the young defender quickly settled into the match, showcasing his speed when chasing down and tracking runners throughout the night. Trusty also showed a fearlessness going into tackles, which is undoubtedly a byproduct of years playing soccer in Delaware County.

At just 19, Trusty’s is playing at a level well-ahead of his years. Predicted to start again on Saturday, all eyes will be on the United States youth international. This time, Trusty will be tasked with shutting down a senior international player in Gyasi Zardes.

Projected Starting XI: 

Here’s how the home side are predicted to lineup in Chester this Saturday:

Starting XI Union.jpg

Injuries and Suspensions:

Ilsinho (OUT); Fabrice-Jean Picault (SUSPENDED)

Match Notes:

Kickoff: 2 PM EST

Venue: Talen Energy Stadium

Referee: Nima Saghafi

Tele: 6ABC, MLS Live


Be sure to follow Philly Football Daily on Twitter for LIVE Tweets throughout the match,  during the post-match press conference, and directly from the locker. You can also follow along here, on PFD, with our Story Stream, which will include Tweets, score updates, and commentary.

Until then, thanks for reading. Cheers.