Entering the 2016 MLS season Columbus Crew SC had tremendous expectations. Crew SC came off a 2015 campaign that earned a second place finish in the Eastern Conference and ultimately advanced to the MLS Cup Final before falling to Portland Timbers. Meanwhile Philadelphia was coming off a disappointing 2015 season that saw them finish near the bottom of the table in the Eastern Conference.
With each club bringing their respective resumes into the new season it was a big surprise to most when Philadelphia left Columbus with a 2-1 victory in the second match of the 2016 campaign five months ago. That night, newly acquired veteran Chris Pontius recorded a brace for the Union and stunned a crowd of 17,015 at Mapfre Stadium. For Pontius, that victory was huge for this club especially because the Union had dropped their opening match against FC Dallas.
“Proud of the guys. not easy to start Dallas away and then have Columbus away too,” Pontius said. “Two of the top teams in the league. Proud of the way we hung in there, we were more aggressive in this game.”
Since that first encounter in Columbus where the Union earned a 2-1 win, the two clubs have gone in separate directions. The Union spent most of the summer at the top or near the top of the table in the Eastern Conference. Pontius has gone on to score eight more goals, tied a career high five assists and is the only American player to record 10 goals.
Whereas Columbus reached turmoil in middle of the season and ultimately traded away fan favorite and goal-scorer Kei Kamara to New England Revolution. Columbus has yet to rise above sixth in the Eastern Conference and has spent 16 consecutive weeks in ninth place or lower.
Despite the fact that right now Columbus sits near the bottom of the table, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin recognizes that Columbus is still a dangerous club.
“Everyone will say they’re struggling because of where they are in the table,” Curtin said. “They’re still damn good. They’re a really good team. Gregg [Berhalter] sticks to his gameplan; they have a true style.”
The Union and Crew will meet for the third and final time Wednesday night. Philadelphia has an opportunity to sweep the season series. Philadelphia also earned a 3-2 victory in Chester on June 1 thanks to the first professional goal from the No. 6 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft Fabian Herbers which turned out to be the game-winner.
This will be the final midweek match of the season for the Union. After their battle against Columbus, Philadelphia will return home to Talen Energy Stadium this Saturday to take on Sporting Kansas City. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be televised on The Comcast Network.