Scouting report: Chasing Columbus
The last time Philadelphia played Columbus, the Crew were the hottest team in Major League Soccer.
Just one month ago, Robert Warzycha's squad came to PPL Park riding a four game unbeaten streak and making an unlikely run toward the playoffs. It was an exciting, different looking Crew team, sparked by the acquisition of forwards Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain.
Since that game, a 2-1 win for the Crew, it's been a more difficult stretch. Columbus is 2-3-0 in September with a season record of 13-11-6. At 45 points, they are just one point behind Houston for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Philadelphia is 2-4-0 all time against Columbus. The season series is tied 1-1, with both games played at PPL Park.
It's still about Higuain and Arrieta up top. After posting phenomenal August numbers, their production has naturally slowed down.
Higuain has no goals and two assists in September. He's played 90 minutes in all but one of the Crew's September fixtures.
Arrieta notched a goal and two assists this month.
The rest of the September has seen mix-and-match contributions from other Crew players. Chad Marshall, Milovan Mirosevic, Emilio Renteria, and Justin Meram all have goals in September. But if Columbus is going to make the playoffs, it will be due to the strong play of Arrieta and Higuain.
Columbus' most recent match was a 2-1 loss at Chicago. Warzycha played a sort of 4-4-1-1 shape, with Mirosevic and Danny O'Rourke manning central midfield. Higuain played just behind Arrieta up top, with Renteria on the right and blue collar veteran Eddie Gaven on the left.
In epth, Tony Tchani and Dilly Duka can start or come off the bench. Duka missed some time over the weekend for what the team and Duka both described as "personal reasons" but he rejoined the team on Monday and resumed practices on Tuesday, according to a team spokesperson. If healthy, Chris Birchall is another midfield option with Olman Vargas also able to contribute up top.
It's always been about Marshall in central defense. The Columbus captain has been paired with different partners throughout the season, but fellow veteran Julius James has been the go-to-guy for the last few games.
Sebastian Miranda and Josh Williams continue to be shoe-ins at right and left fullback, respectively.
Andy Gruenebaum has had an excellent year in goal. His 112 saves this year are tops in MLS. His save percentage of 76 is second only to Bill Hamid, among goalkeepers who have played at least 20 games this season.
Columbus has been excellent at home this season. You'd have to look back to July 14 to find the Crew's last home loss. That was a 2-0 shutout at the hands of Kansas City. Since that loss, Columbus is 5-0-1 at Crew Stadium.
Philadelphia has not won in two tries at Columbus.
The Crew have a goal differential of minus one (-1), which is statistically the weakest among the six teams fighting for Eastern Conference playoff spots. Should Columbus tie on points with any of the teams currently above them, they would lose out on that tiebreaker.
Though they were mid-season signings, Higuain and Arrieta are the top two assist providers on this Crew team. Higuain has six, and Arrieta has four. Shaun Francis and Nemanja Vukovic, both primarily bench players, are tied for third with three assists each.
It's a reasonable schedule down the stretch for Columbus. They get Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Toronto at home. The only remaining road game is a critical trip to D.C. United. That's one of the make-or-break games in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Contact Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @PhilUnionKevinK