Match preview: Keeping the Crew quiet in their home opener is goal of Hackworth, Union
Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.; Where: Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: The Comcast Network with play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Tony Limarzi
Game notes (PDF): Click here
Fresh off a bye-week and victorious in their season opener, the Columbus Crew will provide a difficult weekend test for the unbeaten Philadelphia Union.
Gregg Berhalter's new-look squad performed like a well-oiled machine as it shut out D.C. United, 3-0 in the first week of MLS action.
"I think Gregg Berhalter has done a really good job rebuilding that team," John Hackworth told reporters at his midweek press conference. "I thought they had, last year, some pieces that were really good and they continue to play well together. They had a great first game at D.C. We played Columbus in the preseason, so we at least have a little bit familiarity with them. We're going to have to go in and play in our second home opener (for an opposing team), which is a challenge. We have to be ready for the energy of their fans and the environment."
Columbus missed out on the playoffs last season and longtime manager Robert Warzycha was sacked in September. Technical director Brian Bliss took over as interim coach and the team finished with a 12-17-5 record.
Former United States international Berhalter was hired by the new ownership group on Nov. 6, and he began to re-work the team from back to front.
There are three new starters in defense, with American national teamer Michael Parkhurst leading the way. Goalkeeper Steve Clark was brought home from Norway and the team added some reinforcement in the midfield and forward ranks.
The attacking core still revolves around the dynamic Federico Higuain, who bagged 11 goals and nine assists last season. He scored a brace in the season opener.
"Higuain kind of is the playmaker for them," Hackworth said. "He can show up all over the field and really unbalance defenses with his movement off the ball, and also his ability to make a pass and pick teams apart. Michael Parkhurst is a new player for them, a guy that I have a lot of respect for. I think he really brings a lot to solidifying their defense. He's probably one of the most composed defenders in our league for sure."
Philadelphia is 1-1-1 in the last three matches against Columbus, which includes a home win and road draw from 2013. The Union and Crew only played twiced last year but will matchup three times in 2014.
The club is 3-5-1 all-time against Columbus, but all three of those wins have come at PPL Park. The Union is 0-3-1 at Crew Stadium, and has only earned one of 12 possible points in four games there.
Last year's 1-1 draw was the first positive road result in Ohio.
"For whatever reason, it's been a difficult place for us to play, over the first four years," Hackworth explained. "All I can say is that we don't really think about those things. We feel like we're a team that, right now, has to go out and continue to improve and show we're capable of performing at the level we performed the last two weeks. If we do that, we put ourself in a position to be successful in the game. At the same time, you're against a quality opponent, playing in their home opener, and that's very difficult. Our goal will be the same as always, go in there and get a result. We were able to do it last year, but that was last year. Our focus now is to make sure we establish something and continue to build on the perfomances we've displayed so far."
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Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com