Last year, Columbus Crew and Philadelphia Union canceled each other out across two of their three contests, though Cory Burke's rescinded goal in their last showdown remains controversial. This season, both teams have new systems and are looking to return to the Eastern Conference playoffs. To do so, they will need to defend home turf. And Philadelphia gets first shot when the Crew come to town this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
First loss of the season
Thus far, Columbus has remained undefeated despite generating fairly little on the offensive end. This is... not dissimilar to last season. Although they have scored four goals in three contests, those finishes have been split between starting striker Gyasi Zardes and starting center back Gaston Sauro. One of those makes sense, and the other is Gaston Sauro.
Zardes will miss Saturday's match after getting called up to the US Men's National Team, so the only Crew goals on the pitch will be Sauro's. Patrick Mullins is an able replacement up front, but the Union are catching Columbus with their attacking pants down. Starting wingers Pedro Santos and Justin Meram collected three goals between them in 2018, and Federico Higuain has played more of a facilitator's role in 2019. Without a huge push up front from their opponents, the Union should be able to attack with numbers and generate chances.
Attacking mids making noise
The Union's two goals in 2019 have come from the No. 10 position, but not from the same person. Marco Fabián notched his first MLS goal in the opener against Toronto FC, and Brenden Aaronson matched the Mexican International's total by snagging one against Atlanta United FC last weekend. Aaronson also showed creative chops, putting through Fafa Picault and setting up Cory Burke before departing following his first ever Major League Soccer start.
Fabián has served his red card suspension now and should be able to return to the pitch, which could push Aaronson to the bench. However, there are other options. Fabián is likely to remain atop the Union's midfield diamond, but Aaronson can slide into one of the No. 8 roles as he often did during preseason. The homegrown's ability to play the final ball is special, but his pressing energy is also a key attribute that can allow him to operate across the front three of the diamond. If both Aaronson and Fabián can compliment Ale Bedoya in the Union's midfield, they should have enough energy and numbers to overwhelm Columbus' three-man central trio.
Save the Crew
The last big reason to see Saturday's match? It almost didn't happen! Columbus nearly lost their franchise to Austin, Texas. However, a huge fan-driven push to keep the team in Ohio resulted in new ownership and a new lease on life. As a club that was also created through impressive fan energy, the Union will welcome the Crew with open arms... right up until the opening whistle. At that point, Philly will be fighting with all they have to secure their first win of 2019. And you want to be there for that.
The Union and Crew meet at 7:30 p.m. ET at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday, March 23rd.