Why watch Philadelphia Union take on Columbus Crew? There is a lot on the line in this one, so missing it will be a costly decision.
Home field advantage on the line
Home field advantage exists in soccer. Home teams tend to control games, or at least play them their preferred way, and playing at home allows a squad to feed off their fanbase as they give maximum effort for 90 minutes.
A win over Columbus puts the Union in the driver’s seat for a home playoff match. There will still be more games to win, but taking three points off the Crew makes the home game Philly’s to lose. After a season of fighting to be recognized and accepted, getting to host a postseason match will show that Jim Curtin’s men are a growing and dangerous force in MLS.
Furthermore, passing Columbus in the standings will indicate that the Union are closing in on other strong system-based clubs in terms of how well they can execute their system and impose it on an opponent that also wants to control the ball and dominate a game. Gregg Berhalter’s team is famous for their dedication to a build-it-out, fullbacks-for-width philosophy, and Philly’s success this season has come from understanding and adhering to Curtin’s principles of play in a similar manner.
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Standout performers on both the Crew and Union are Americans that have in the past or will play big roles in the development of US Soccer. Ale Bedoya’s all-around game is a model of the type of player Earnie Stewart wants on the pitch going forward, and Wil Trapp — more cerebral than outstandingly athletic, more dedicated to controlling play than overrunning an opponent — is currently vying to take over as the American midfield general going forward.
Gyasi Zardes is also hoping to become a fixture on future USMNT squads. The former tweener striker/winger is now fully a central forward, and he has the second highest Expected Goals number in MLS this season (behind some guy you may have heard of named Josef Martinez). Zardes is rarely involved in buildup play, which makes it all the more striking when he pops up to finish things off late in a move.
For the Union, their young talent hoping to catch the eye of future US coaches resides mostly in the back line. Auston Trusty is already well on his way to getting a call-up and Mark McKenzie will continue to anchor American youth teams until the next US coach recognizes it’s time to get an absolute speed demon with an ever-improving passing game into his defense.
Oh, and Keegan Rosenberry has returned to being one of the best right backs in MLS, so don’t expect him to hang on the periphery of the national team much longer.
The Union travel to Columbus looking to show that a difficult result in the US Open Cup final can be transformed into a springboard for the rest of the MLS season. Jim Curtin said his team is nothing if not resilient, and they get a chance to prove that in Ohio on Saturday night.