Even a casual look at the standings tells you how important Saturday’s game at the Columbus Crew game is for the Union. Philadelphia trail the Crew by three points in the Eastern Conference, while holding onto a one game in hand advantage.
It’s called a six point game for obvious reasons, as the winner gets three points, and the loser misses out on three. So after this weekend, assuming there is an outright winner, Columbus will either have a six point lead over Philly, or the race at the top will be even.
Keep in mind that trailing teams in the East like New York, Houston, Sporting KC and DC United all play this weekend and could make the race more interesting.
This game is critical for Philly, but for reasons beyond just the standings. The team has been stuck on eight wins since their road victory at New England on July 17. It’s one loss followed by three straight draws, tied for the longest winless streak of the season.
Taking it back further, while the team hasn’t been losing (one loss in the last nine games), they haven’t been winning either, going 2-1-6 in the same stretch. Manager Peter Nowak recognizes the lull, which factored into the Freddy Adu signing, and it’s most likely a reason why Nowak recently stated the team might not be done in terms of working to improve the roster.
For Saturday’s game vs Columbus here are a few things to look for:
Where does Freddy Adu play, and how much has this one week of training helped him and his teammates?
How much did the two converted penalty kicks vs. FC Dallas help Sebastien Le Toux in terms of his confidence? Le Toux scored a goal in each of his two games last year vs. Columbus.
Who steps in for the injured Brian Carroll, out with a right foot contusion? Carroll might be the team’s most unsung player. The ground he covers is enormous. His reading of the game and breaking up the opponent's attack has been a major factor in Philadelphia’s improved overall defensive record in 2011.
Can the Union penetrate a stingy Columbus defense, led by central defenders Chad Marshall and Julius James? Only Philadelphia have a better defensive record than Columbus in the Eastern Conference.
Will the Union be able to contain the speedy Robbie Rogers on the flank, and be able to neutralize whichever duo starts up top for the Crew? If both Andres Mendoza and Emilio Renteria start, they could be a handful.
Tune into The Comcast Network Saturday, beginning at 7:00 p.m. for the pre-game show. See you then.