Preview: Union at Crew

Philadelphia look to end season on a high with first-ever winning streak

Philadelphia Union's 2-1 win against the New York Red
Bulls in last Saturday's home finale felt like a perfect ending. In many ways it
was, but there’s still plenty to play for in Sunday’s season finale against the
Columbus Crew.

Aside from a sense of pride and the obvious goal of ending the season
on a high, there are several specific objectives for Philadelphia. For one, the Union
have yet to win consecutive matches in league play all season. While the club’s
form has improved dramatically since early in this inaugural campaign
regardless of Sunday’s result, it’s hard to imagine a better way to finish the year than beating the
top two teams in the Eastern Conference consecutively.

Taking points won’t be so easy, however, in part
because the Crew are a quality side, and in part because the road has been
unkind to Philadelphia. The Union are 2-11-1 away from home, a record that will
have to improve substantially for the club to match their expectations in
2011. Making a statement in Columbus, both to the league and to themselves,
would help create a world of momentum heading into the offseason.

Philadelphia will also attempt to avoid sharing a dubious record. The Union have recorded only two shutouts this season, which would tie the
all-time mark set by six other clubs (most recently the LA Galaxy in 2008). The
record is indicative of Philadelphia’s early defensive struggles, rather than
their current form, but the backline would undoubtedly like to distance
themselves from the bottom of the pack in the season’s final contest.

On a more positive note, both Sebastien Le Toux
and Danny Mwanga will have one final opportunity to stake their claims for the
MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, respectively. Le Toux has put together a
stellar campaign that would likely make him a lock for the postseason
distinction if Philadelphia were playoff-bound, but his accomplishments may be
enough to overcome the one shortcoming in his
résumé.
Mwanga is most likely battling New York’s Tim Ream to be deemed the top rookie,
and a goal in the season’s finale would do wonders to erase the memory of his recent goal scoring drought.

The Crew got the best of the Union in the last
meeting between the two clubs, with two goals from substitute Steven Lenhart
outweighing Le Toux’s penalty kick in first half extra time. Columbus will be
without Lenhart in the rematch, however, as the club’s second leading scorer received
a red card for an altercation with Toronto ‘keeper Jon Conway. Midfielder
Fred will miss the match on the other side of the ball for yellow card
accumulation after the Union's hero vs. New York picked up his fifth card of the season in the 67
th
minute.

Lenhart’s absence will be felt by Columbus, but the real key to stopping
the Crew is containing
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who leads the club with
eight goals and nine assists. If the Union can do that, they’ll be in good
shape to extend Columbus’ winless streak in league action to seven matches
(0-4-2 in their last six).

Matchups to Watch:

Danny Mwanga vs Chad Marshall

While Le Toux will surely spend his fair share of
time in Columbus’ defensive third, Mwanga will be the one banging bodies with
standout defender Chad Marshall on a regular basis. Marshall will be a load for
Mwanga, who has admitted that he needs to work on being more physical,
especially against bigger defenders. At 6-4, Marshall certainly qualifies, and
he’s as smart with his positioning as he is physically imposing.

The MLS Defender of the Year two years running
is a tough assignment for the Rookie of the Year candidate, but if
Mwanga can finish the season with a tally against the league’s best, he’ll
prove once again why he’s worthy of postseason hardware.

The Union vs road woes

After Sunday’s season finale, Philadelphia will
officially shed the expansion label. The club has eliminated the vast majority
of immaturities that plagued them early on, but having success on the road is
still a barrier. Winning away from home is never easy in MLS, but the best
teams find a way to at least hover around the .500 mark. Making a
statement against a Columbus side that have taken full points from nine out of
their 14 home games this season -- even though
Robert Warzycha’s squad is
sitting on a team-record 280-minute home scoreless streak -- would be a perfect
way to pronounce the expansion label a thing of the past.

More Analysis

Miglioranzi: Pride at Stake vs. Crew

WATCH: Columbus Crew Preview

Union Look to End Season With a Win

Season Finale to Air on 6abc

Last Meeting

Columbus 2, Philadelphia 1

Last Match Highlights

Philadelphia 2, New York 1

Columbus 2, Toronto FC 2

Philadelphia Union Injury Report

 

PROBABLE: GK Brad Knighton (L shoulder sprain)

 

DISCIPLINARY: Fred (yellow card accumulation)

Columbus Crew Injury Report

PROBABLE: FW Steven Lenhart (illness); DF Frankie Hejduk (illness); MF Danny O'Rourke (back spasms)

DISCIPLINARY: Steven Lenhart (red card)

Match Information

Date:
Sunday, October 24, 2010

Time:
4:00pm

Location: Crew Stadium (Columbus, OH)

Television: 6abc/MyNetwork TV WQMY

Talent:
JP Dellacamera (play by play); Kyle Martino (color
analyst)

Referee: Kevin
Stott. SAR (bench): Chris Strickland; JAR (opposite): Daniel Belleau; 4th:
Hilario Grajeda