Match preview: Expect playoff atmosphere in playoff decider vs. Crew (Saturday, 7 p.m.)

 

Columbus Crew (11-10-1, 43 points) at Philadelphia Union (9-10-12, 39 points)

What: Major League Soccer regular season match; When: Saturday, 7 p.m. (kickoff 7:08 p.m)

Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.; Tickets: purchase tickets

TV: The Comcast Network featuring play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas

Radio: None; Online: Streaming video via MLS Live; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday; Parking: $20 at all PPL Park approved lots

Mass transit: Shuttle service to and from Chester Transportation Center; Game notes (PDF): Click here

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Since Jim Curtin took over on an interim basis, every match has been huge.

This one may be the biggest yet.

The Philadelphia Union (9-10-12, 39 points) host the Columbus Crew (11-10-10, 43 points) Saturday night at PPL Park.

Win and the Union stay alive in the postseason race. Lose or draw and the Union are virtually out.

With just three matches remaining in the regular season, this particular one looms large. The Union are four points out of the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“All these games have felt like elimination games,” Curtin said. “You watch in the crazy Toronto-Houston game where there’s a crazy penalty kick, and a red card, and tension. Toronto feels like they’ve let themselves down when you read the quotes after a game like that. Every team’s going through it right now, so every game has that same feel —we’re not unique to it. So, when New York plays Houston, or Toronto plays, you know, insert New England, whoever, any Eastern Conference team plays right now, there’s a very small margin for error.

“The teams  that are going to come out on top here and make the playoffs will be determined by these little tiny calls by referees, by maybe a block in front of goal, maybe a big save from a goalkeeper, or whatever it might be, but you see it’s a very, very fine line right now in the Eastern Conference, for whatever reason. Again, you play 34 games and it’s going to come down to these last three for, not just us, a lot of teams.”

The Union will receive a boost with the return of forwards Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux from injuries.

“It’s big,” Curtin said. “Those are the two guys that we rode during the course of the year in our best of times, those guys have contributed with goals. Little injuries and things have kept them out lately and cooled them off a little bit, but you bank on those guys because they’ve done it for so long. They’ve done it forever in their careers and they’re goals that score goals when they get opportunities, so we’ll lean on that.”

Defender Sheanon Williams (quad) is also likely to be back. But defender Ethan White (back) and midfielder Cristian Maidana (flu-like symptoms) may not be on the pitch.

“Ethan has an unrelated issue where his back started to act up a little bit,” Curtin said. “I’m hoping, I’m optimistic it doesn’t keep him out of the game. Sheanon is fine, Sheanon’s quad is fine. Just to update again so everyone’s on the same page, Chaco Maidana had flu symptoms so he was not in today. Not good, obviously, timing wise, but hopefully he’ll be back and then we can re-evaluate things with that. So, wasn’t in training today but, again, hopefully it’s just a sickness thing. Questionable would be the way to put it, I guess.”

Union goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi has been called up by Algeria to appear in group play action for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

Zac MacMath is prepared to play like he has so many times before.

“He’s (MacMath) had a great week,” Curtin said. “I can’t say enough how much of a professional he’s been: he’s been very good in training, he’s helped with Andre Blake, little things like that. We have a kid in from Harrisburg right now that Zac’s been good with. So, again, his mentality’s been excellent. He’ll step in and we have full confidence that he can do the job and get us a win on our home field."

Thoughts on this match? Leave your comment below.

Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at andy.jasner@yahoo.com


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