Creavalle and Tchani

Preview: Union host Crew SC before Copa America Break, look to extend seven-game unbeaten streak

It’s over, it’s done. That will be the feeling as Philadelphia Union wraps up their six-game stretch in 22 days. Although the club has not lost a match during this span, the Union have definitely been tested over the past three weeks. Their sixth and final test comes against Columbus Crew SC, a team that has been hot as of late.

The two Eastern Conference foes have already clashed this season. This first match came on March 12 at Mapfre Stadium. That night belonged to a newly acquired midfielder. It was truly the Chris Pontius show in Columbus.  The veteran scored two goals, both unassisted and single-handedly gave the Union a 2-1 road victory. Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin praised Pontius for his all-around game this season.

“Chris is a special player. He’s incredible around the goal,” Curtin said. “The work that he’s done defensively that doesn’t really show up on stat sheets has been very valuable. He’s got big goals and big assists for us, but I love the work that he’s done defensively.”

Columbus will enter the match with a 3-4-5 record. Their 14 points is good for ninth in the east. The club got off to a rough start of the season, going winless in their first five matches after being the Eastern Conference representative in the 2015 MLS Cup.

Their season hit a turning point after the club blew a three-goal lead at home against Montreal Impact. An on-field argument led to the club trading away goal-scorer Kei Kamara to New England Revolution. Since the trade, Columbus has not lost a match going 1-0-2 in that span. Head coach and Sporting Director Gregg Berhalter expressed how confident his locker-room is getting.

“Three points is big. Anytime you get three points it boosts your confidence,” Berhalter said. “You can tell the group we’re on the right track, keep going, keep pushing, but to really get that comfort you need to win.”

Despite the hat-trick in the match against Real Salt Lake from Ola Kamara, offensively Columbus will count on the services of Federico Higuain. The Argentinian has recorded three goals and three assists this season.

Scoring goals on the road has been a serious issue for Columbus in their 2016 campaign. In six matches, the club has produced just two goals. They have yet to record three points on the road this year. Their task of finding the back of the net won’t be easy on Wednesday. Philadelphia has allowed just 0.7 goals per game at Talen Energy Stadium this year.

As for the Union, they’re on the verge of making history. The club has not lost a match in seven consecutive matches, going 2-0-5 in that stretch. Philadelphia is just one more unbeaten decision from tying a franchise record of eight that was set in the 2011 season.

Their current seven-game unbeaten streak is the third longest in MLS this season. Philadelphia trails only LA Galaxy who went nine matches without a loss starting in May, and Colorado who is currently riding a nine-game unbeaten streak as well.

A player to watch in Wednesday’s match is the man between the posts for the Union. For the first time since Sept. 20, 2015 someone other than Andre Blake will be in net for Philadelphia. Blake has left the club to serve Jamaica in Copa America.

A win on Wednesday would be monumental for the Union. Three points would give them 23 on the season and guarantee them first place in the Eastern Conference before the break. 

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