If a final playoff push is coming, it has to start now.
Eigth-place Philadelphia returns to PPL Park on Wednesday for a matchup with seventh-place Columbus – but the gap between the two sides is now eleven points
Robert Warzycha's Crew have enjoyed a mostly quiet but consistent season. At 10-8-6, they are four points back from DC in the playoff race, and they have four games in hand on the sixth-place Montreal Impact. Columbus is fresh off a high-energy 4-3 home win against New England.
Philadelphia is 2-3-0 all time against the Crew. The Union beat Columbus 1-0 back in April to secure the team's very first win of the 2012 season. Gabriel Gomez converted a first half penalty kick, awarded when Freddy Adu's left sided cross was handled by Eric Gehrig inside the Columbus box.
Columbus looks to have struck gold with the mid-season signings of Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain. Each newcomer hit a brace in Saturday night's win against the Revolution. Believe it or not, Arrieta is now second on the team with 5 goals, while Higuain is third on the team with 3 goals scored. The pair have produced 8 goals in just 11 combined games this season.
Arrieta seems to play as a pure striker, with good speed and skill in the final third. He has the capability of getting behind opposing backlines, and he makes clever runs to create space for himself. Both goals from Saturday were scored after simple short balls were played over the top of New England's central defenders. Arrieta was able to latch on to those looped passes, and fire home.
Higuain, who happens to be the brother of Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain, looks to sit back a little deeper in the formation. He scored a pair of spectacular free kicks on Saturday, inevitably drawing comparisons to Guillermo Barros-Schelotto, the Argentina man who lead the Crew to an MLS Cup and two consecutive Supporter's Shields a few years ago. Higuain also has good vision and distribution, which takes some of the playmaking pressure off of Milovan Mirosevic. Mirosevic is now able to sit back a bit further in the Crew formation.
Of course, you can't forget Eddie Gaven, a Crew mainstay since 2006. He'll line up on the right side, with Dilly Duka likely on the left. Gaven is a tireless worker, a blue collar guy who leads his team with 6 goals this year.
The Crew defense looked a little bit stretched against New England on Saturday, conceding two first half goals and a second half penalty kick.
Captain Chad Marshall anchors the Columbus backline, but his CB partner might be a question mark on Wednesday. Carlos Mendes left Saturday's game with a hamstring strain. He was replaced by fellow veteran Julius James in the 40th minute. James will likely start on Wednesday.
Columbus also lost underrated goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum to a lower back contusion on Saturday. That allowed backup Matt Lampson to make his MLS debut. Gruenebaum had played every minute of the 2012 season for Columbus up until that point. His status is unknown for Wednesday.
Count on Sebastian Miranda to slot in at right back. He's been one of Columbus' most consistent performers over the last two years. Josh Williams is your starting left back, with Danny O'Rourke normally filling the holding midfield role.
The Crew attack is suddenly so much better with the additions of Higuain and Arrieta. Prior to Saturday's four goal explosion, Columbus had only scored 25 goals on the entire season. Only Philadelphia, Portland, and Chivas USA had scored fewer goals in 2012. Saturday's game was Columbus' highest scoring output of the year.
Columbus is 2-1-2 in the month of August, and currently riding a four-game unbeaten streak. But Warzycha's side is not necessarily a streaky team. The Crew have not won, lost, or drawn more than two games in a row during this entire campaign.
The Crew do have some depth on the bench. Former Galaxy midfielder Chris Birchall joined the club midway through the season. Justin Meram and Tony Tchani are guys who can play a number of roles as substitutes, while Emilio Renteria was a starting striker earlier in the year. Columbus did lose midfielder Bernardo Anor to an ACL tear this year, but they do have options all over the field.