Match Preview: Union vs. Crew
As a diehard Union fan who believes in the Club and what it is capable of accomplishing, I will not allow our Boys in Blue to be defined by losses in critical matches to rivals such as the loss to New York last Saturday. The Union’s matchup this Saturday against the Columbus Crew at Crew Stadium will be among those critical Eastern Conference matches in this young MLS season.
The 2-2-0 Union are coming off of a Red Bulls match that, unfortunately, seemed to be within reach, thanks to a Connor Casey goal in the 63rd minute of that match. My friend and colleague Eugene Rupinski mentioned in his match preview that the only real test prior to last weekend’s Red Bull game was with Sporting Kansas City. By all accounts last weekend’s match was definitely winnable, had Coach Hack not made some last minute adjustments. The best example of this: replacing Jack Mack, who was having a spectacular game, and replacing him with Keon Daniel, who was an inappropriate replacement at a time in the game where the Union needed to strike the Metros while they were down for the count (see Eugene’s post match review).
Off last week, the 2-1-1 Crew are coming off an impressive win in their last match against DC United (2-1 Crew, at RFK). Despite being one point above where they were last year, the Columbus side looks strong this early in the season, relatively injury free and with a solid back line – both ingredients for a potentially successful playoff run.
Historically the Blue and Gold have not fared well at Crew Stadium. In fact in our short history, the U has not fared well at all (0-3-0 at Crew Stadium and 2-5-0 overall). You also have a Columbus side where different players have scored different goals in games very early in the current season. Beyond soccer, one of my pet peeves is a dependency on those one or two key players to do all the work (for me, the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers Squad that included Alan Iverson was the best example of this). The Union experienced this with Le Toux in the first two years of our existence, then with Carlos Ruiz in the couple of months (or was it less???) that he played for the Union (glad to see that it’s working out so far for El Pescadito, evidenced by DC United’s 3rd from the bottom placement in the Standings). The Crew have Argentinean international Federico Higuaín (older brother of Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuaín); they have Ghanian international Dominic Oduro; Josh Williams; Costa Rican international Jairo Arrieta (who just came back from international duty with the Costa Rican national squad); and Brazilian International Glauber. Among these 5 they have scored a total of 7 goals in the Crew’s first season games. By comparison we have scored 5 goals, thanks to Jack Mack, Le Toux, Amobi Okugo (thanks ‘Mobs!), and Conor Casey at last week’s games.
The comparison stretches a bit if you go further and compare goal production for each side’s top player from year to year. Among the standouts: Jack Mack’s 8 goals scored for the Union last year. Le Toux’s 5 total scored with Vancouver and New York. And then there are the Crew Stats: Arrieta and Eddie Gaven led the Crew with 9 goals each, followed by Higuaín (5) and Josh Williams (3). Oh, and while Dominic Oduro was at the Chicago Fire last year, he scored 6 goals (in 2011 he scored 12!).
Yes, the statistics don’t lie, we have NOT had a great track record with Columbus. But it is early in the season. And bear in mind those current standings will change in the coming months, depending on the desire of each team, and how hungry they are to win.
Here’s what the Union should focus on going into this match:
- Hack—please don’t cut the momentum by making inopportune substitutions. If Jack McInerney, Le Toux, or Casey are having a great game, and they start, let them continue playing. If you do have to sub anyone, make sure it’s a playmaker such as Hoppenot. If you have to use newly-signed Brazilian international Kléberson, use him toward the end of the match—if at all. At this point we’re uncertain if and how he can adjust to the pace of MLS and effectively communicate with the squad.
- Keep the 4-3-3 formation utilized prior to the New York match, instead of the 4-4-2 formation used for New York.
- The Union need to be on the offensive. As with every team throughout the beautiful game, be alert, be present, and most importantly TAKE ADVANTAGE of the scoring opportunities.
- The backline is still solid, but hopefully Parke and ‘Mobs will watch the film from the New York match and keep up the communication.
The Crew, really, need to keep at what they’ve been doing so far in this young season. Yet they need to be aware of a Philadelphia side that just suffered a defeat at the hands of a bitter conference rival. They also need to realize that they’re only a point above Philly in the standings, which will make for Philly team determined to push the Crew down the table with a win. While I would love nothing more than to chalk up a win at Crew Stadium, as with any team, the Union have to hunger for each and every win. And they have to envision themselves accomplishing the goals they set in this young season—despite what the “odds” or “history” dictates. Final Score: Union 1-Crew 1