When Columbus Crew SC faces the Philadelphia Union at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET), both momentum and history may be on the Black & Gold’s side. Yet, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter is preparing his side for a tough contest with a visiting team that is looking to find its winning ways.
While Crew SC (2-2-2) is on a three-game unbeaten streak, the Union (1-4-3) saw its brief two-game undefeated run come to an end with a 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution this past weekend. Philly now has lost four of its last six matches.
Historically, Crew SC has fared well against Philadelphia. The Black & Gold never lost to the Union in Columbus, having won five of six contests at MAPFRE Stadium. They swept the three-game series against Philly last season and are 8-3-1 all-time.
Nevertheless, Berhalter is expecting a challenging match.
“Like most teams in the MLS, it will be a tough game,” he says. “They are a good team. They have gotten unlucky in some games and it just hasn’t been going their way. But they are a dangerous team.”
How dangerous the Union can be Crew SC saw during preseason when Philadelphia beat the Black & Gold 5-3 on penalties at the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic.
“They had their number with us,” Crew SC midfielder Justin Meram recalls. “They are a good team, from the goalie who has stepped in and done a good job to a veteran group in the offensive line. We have to be weary of their threats and when we get our chances we have to put them away.”
Among the visitors’ offensive threats is forward Fernando Aristeguieta. The striker was acquired on loan from FC Nantes in February and has scored three goals so far. The Black & Gold will try to prevent the Venezuelan from adding to his tally on Saturday, as they aim to build on their two consecutive clean sheets.
Most importantly, though, Berhalter is looking for his team to continue the progress it has made since the home loss to the New York Red Bulls four weeks ago.
“That’s key, to keep progressing, to keep getting better,” he says. “New York was a game where we shot ourselves in the foot. We had chances to score goals and we didn’t. But you have to move on from that. It’s passed and we’ve had three games since then – two good road games, a good home game – and we’re looking forward.”
Midfielder Mohammed Saeid has been satisfied with the progress.
“There were a lot of improvements that needed to be done, and we did that through the three games we have been unbeaten,” he says.
The Union has taken note.
“They are a team that’s in good form,” Philadelphia Head Coach Jim Curtin said. “Columbus is, for me, one of the top possession teams in our league.”
Crew SC ranks second in MLS in passing accuracy, trailing only Orlando City SC, and two of its players, Waylon Francis (95.1%) and Saeid (90%), are the League’s two most accurate passers (min. 100 passes attempted).
For Saeid, the important thing is to turn those statistics into wins and entertain supporters at home.
“It’s important to win games, at home especially,” he says. “We had a good crowd coming out to watch [last match] and we played some good soccer. […] When we win everyone’s happy.”
To watch Saturday’s match at MAPFRE Stadium, get your tickets here. It’s Dollar Night! $1 beers and brats! If you can't make it to the match catch the action on Time Warner Cable’s SportsChannel, CD 102.5 or La Mega 103.1.
Also don’t miss this Sunday’s national broadcasts as the New York Red Bulls welcome the LA Galaxy, (ESPN2, 5 p.m. ET), Orlando City SC hosts Toronto FC (Fox Sports 1, 7 p.m. ET) and the Seattle Sounders take on the Portland Timbers (Fox Sports 1, 9:30 p.m.).