Union look to snap four-game losing streak against Columbus

Columbus Crew SC (4-4-4, 16 points) at Philadelphia Union (3-8-3, 12 points)

What: Major League Soccer regular season match; When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa. Tickets: here

TV: The Comcast Network with play-by-play announcer Marc Zumoff and color analyst Peter Pappas

Radio: None; Online: MLS Live; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday

Parking: $20 at all approved PPL lots; Mass Transit: Shuttle service to and from Chester Transportation Center

The last time the Philadelphia Union squared off against Columbus Crew SC, it’s fair to say things didn’t go as planned.

The Union were humbled in a 4-1 defeat at MAPFRE Stadium in which they trailed 3-0 heading into halftime. In particular, Ethan Finlay and Kei Kamara pretty much had their way with the Union defense and looked capable of more goals in the second half if it was required.

But almost six weeks later, the Union now look at that game as a low-point in the season, and one that they’ve certainly turned the page on.

“Yeah, it’s a game that we look back on and think that obviously it wasn’t our best,” Maurice Edu said. “We can all put our hands up and say it wasn’t a good day for us. It’s something that’s behind us now but it’s important to learn from that game, to go up here tomorrow night and not make the same mistakes that we made in that game.”

Some of those mistakes were self-inflicted. Others from a team simply riddled with injuries and in poor form. But since that game, Richie Marquez and Sheanon Williams have noticeably stepped up and helped stabilize a backline that was struggling to prevent goals.

With Marquez, Williams, Edu and either Ray Gaddis or Fabinho filling out the backline, the Union defense has been particularly stingy, posting two clean sheets in their last three games. The only goals during that stretch were a penalty (Chris Rolfe) and a spectacular header (Chris Pontius) on the last play of the first half. Marquez has arguably been the key, though, ever since making his MLS debut against Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco – a game where Toronto’s lone goal came on a free kick.

“[Richie has] grabbed ahold of a position in a team that’s given up too many goals and he’s come in and given us some stability back there,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “The two shutouts in a row were huge for us and also to have him step in against D.C. – even when they get the penalty kick and header in the first half – I thought that he did a great job limiting their chances.”

What’s also been clear is his ability to pair well with Edu. Along with Fabinho’s recent resurgence, the Union’s back four has been as good as any point this year. But they’ve also been aided by a team that, overall, is getting pretty healthy.

In the midfield, the health of Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana has been well documented, and the two are figured to be back in the lineup Wednesday against Columbus. In fact, it’s possible the Union will have the exact same starting lineup in consecutive games for the first time this season. At the very least, Curtin will have that option if he so chooses to go that route.

“The guys are confident now, that is for sure,” Curtin said. “There’s a belief in the group and we’re healthy, at least as healthy as we’ve been. There’s some continuity in practice each week which goes a long way. I think the guys have worked hard and we’ve gotten a lot of good performances out of some veterans.”

One of those is midfielder Brian Carroll, who seemed to be an afterthought heading into the season. But the 33-year-old former captain has filled in admirably for an injured Michael Lahoud, and his play has allowed Curtin to keep Edu at centerback, where he’s thrived this year.

Carroll will have a key role in neutralizing a dangerous Crew attack that features the league’s leading goalscorer in Kamara. An early MVP candidate, Kamara headlines a group alongside Finlay, Justin Meram and Will Trapp. And although Curtin spoke highly of the group, his main concern lies elsewhere.

“It starts with their outside backs getting forward more so than any other team’s, often both at the same time,” Curtin said. “They’re unique in that regard. They spread the field wide and Meram and Finlay pinch inside towards the center circle and the outside backs push past them. Then you have to deal with Higuain as well who’s the one where if they get him the ball, all four guys are then bombing forward. Then if you sprinkle Kei in there, it’s a lot to deal with.”

One break the Union will get is the suspension of Michael Parkhurst. The veteran center back has started all 12 games for Crew SC this year, but received a red card Saturday night against Orlando City for a deliberate hand ball in the penalty box.

“We’re fortunate to get them without Parkhurst who I think is really an underappreciated center back in the league,” Curtin said. “Not just for his defending, but for his ability to possess and start their attack as one of the best passers in the league. So for them to be missing him is an advantage for us.”

This will be second game in a busy, eight-day stretch for the Union. They’ll host NYCFC Saturday night as to cap the week, one that offers promise for Curtin’s club, which is arguably playing its best soccer of the year.

“We know we’re not anywhere near where we want to be in the standings but at the same time we’ve looked like what we can show in the last three games,” he said. “We can be a team that can play with anybody in the league and that’s the way we’re taking it. Now we have some games at home, four out of five in June and we need to go on a run if we want to put ourselves back in the playoff picture.”

What do you think is a gameplan for success against Columbus Crew SC? Leave your comment below.

Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at cwinkler@philadelphiaunion.com.