Match Preview

Behind depth, Union look to get back on right track against Columbus on Saturday

Fabinho vs Crew

After a disappointing 2-0 loss to FC Dallas on Sunday, the Union were further dismayed by mid-week news that Maurice Edu would officially miss a significant amount of time with a stress fracture in his left leg. 

Now they have to go to Columbus to face the defending Eastern Conference champs.

“We need to have a good mentality, stick together through a tough time — injuries happen, they’re part of the game,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “Columbus doesn’t care one way or the other — it doesn’t wait for anybody, so we’ll need to be ready to go, even though we do lose Mo.”

But the adversity is nothing new for Curtin and the Union. Alongside sporting director Earnie Stewart’s new plans, the club has devoted much time and effort to building a strong two-deep at each position. Add to it the Union have been without their captain for any training session since September,  and regardless of Edu’s stature, the news is nothing new.

“We’ve been without him for a long time in the preseason and guys have performed well,” Curtin said. “So, we’ll expect more of the same.”

On to Columbus. Crew SC opened the year in an MLS Cup rematch in Portland and lost to the Timbers 2-1 – again.

Outside of a straight swap of Hector Jimenez for Justin Meram on the left wing, Columbus used the exact same lineup as last year’s final. Besides that, Columbus also has a new backup striker – and quite familiar to Union fans as well – in Conor Casey. Besides that, this is the same Crew team the Union should be used to.

Of course the problem with that is the Union have struggled at Mapfre Stadium – going 0-8-1 all-time. But they did thrash Columbus 3-0 at Talen Energy Stadium last year and have surprisingly never been shut out by Crew SC in 15 all-time matches.

“Gregg [Berhalter] has a very good team, first and foremost, they’re very disciplined,” Curtin said. “Their approach is to build out of the back; they play a good, attractive brand of soccer. Again, it’s a tough environment, it’s the team’s home opener so you have to try to use that to your advantage.

“So, maybe with a team like them that throws their outside backs forward so aggressively we have to be disciplined and we also have to when we do get our chances – because, again, Columbus does concede chances – you have to take advantage of them, you can’t have any in between like we had a little bit in the Dallas game.”

If Sunday’s match is any consolation, the Union should be well prepared for some wide pressure. Columbus tends to push their full backs high to really widen the field. On top of having 2015’s leading goalscorer Kei Kamara waiting to pounce on crosses, they also have a talented group of attacking midfielders who can tuck into vacated areas and make plays.

They’re as dangerous of an offensive team in the league and that was evident from last year’s 58 goals – second best in MLS.

“I think you have to do a good job not letting their outside backs make you be the team that’s backpedaling and just absorbing pressure the entire time,” Curtin said. [Harrison] Afful has a green light to really just go down that right side. You have to be, obviously, disciplined when you do win balls and play in the spaces that he’s vacated.”

For the Union, expect to see a similar lineup from last week’s opener. There are possibilities for Richie Marquez, Ray Gaddis and Roland Alberg to be inserted into the starting lineup. All three seemed to be staples in this year’s plans, but all three missed significant time in preseason for one reason or another.

And you can probably expect the Union to throw a little more caution to the wind. After having just two shots on target against FC Dallas, Curtin seemed to be most disappointed by his team’s trepidation.

“We know that the bar has to be raised, and I think the players have got that message, and we’ll see a better performance from the group against Columbus.”

What do you think is the key to success vs. Columbus Crew SC? Leave your comment below.

Buy tickets to the homeopener


On Sale Now!

On Sale Now!

Every match matters! In 2024, you do not want to miss your favorite matchups as the Union take on the best MLS has to offer! When we score, make sure you are there to get Subaru Park shaking!

Stay in the Know
Stay in the Know


The Boys in Blue, delivered to your inbox. Tickets, deals, giveaways, and more.