Philadelphia Union (8-14-7, 31 points, 7th in the Eastern Conference) vs. Columbus Crew (13-8-8, 47 points, 2nd in the Eastern Conference) at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
All-time record: Columbus lead 1-0.
4 p.m. ET, MLS Direct Kick, MatchDay Live
The final game of the regular season has no playoff ramifications – Philadelphia are a non-qualifier and the Crew were assured of finishing second in the East after New York defeated New England on Thursday. But Philadelphia will be playing for pride and the chance to end the season on the uptick following their 2-1 victory over the Red Bulls on Oct. 16 before their adoring fans in PPL Park.
“We feel that if we end on a positive note, we’ll come back in the preseason and feel good about what we’ve done here,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth said.
Columbus seek momentum heading into the playoffs and got a lift with a 4-1 away victory against Trinidadian side Joe Public on Thursday in the final Group B match of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Crew became the first team to qualify for the quarterfinals, reach the finals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and make the MLS postseason in the same year.
In a quirky coincidence, Sunday’s game features a ‘keeper who was nominated for goal of the week – William Hesmer’s strike off a corner kick in stoppage time brought the Crew a 2-2 tie at Toronto FC on Oct. 16 – and a midfielder who won the save of the week award.
Fred not only scored against New York but had a goal-line clearance of a Juan Agudelo header in added time to preserve the Union win.
The visiting Crew defeated the Union 2-1 on Aug. 5 behind a pair of goals by Steven Lenhart, who subbed early for Jason Garey when the forward became ill with a stomach virus. Lenhart is suspended for the rematch after his red card following an altercation with Toronto goalkeeper Jon Conway.
Coach Robert Warzycha has options to replace Lenhart with Emilio Rentería scoring twice against Joe Public, Andrés Mendoza also tallying in the match and Garey having a strong game as the partner for both.
“We’ll try to play with as much of the lineup that we think will play in the playoffs but by some of the performances by the guys [Thursday] they may see more of the field,” Warzycha said.
Whoever gets the call, the Crew will be looking to end a team-record 280-minute scoreless streak in Crew Stadium where they are 9-3-2. The last goal was by Lenhart in the 80th minute of a 3-1 win over Colorado on Aug. 21. Since then, the Crew have had scoreless games with FC Dallas and San Jose and a 4-0 loss to Seattle.
Columbus could finish with 50 points, one more than last year when they won their second straight Supporters’ Shield but seven fewer than the MLS championship team of 2008.
The Union are 6-7-6 (24 points) after a 2-7-1 start for the expansion team. That’s comparable to the Crew’s 7-7-5 (28 points) mark over the past 19 games.
“We’re a team now,” Hackworth said. “Back then, we were a bunch of individuals.”
Sebastien Le Toux is an MVP candidate with 13 goals and 11 assists. His penalty conversion in the 45th minute vs. the Crew tied the match before Lenhart’s winner five minutes later. Rookie forward Danny Mwanga has seven goals and four assists in his bid for Rookie of the Year honors.
Forward Alejandro Moreno has six assists heading into his return to Columbus after being taken by the Union in the expansion draft. He had 20 goals in three seasons with the Crew and scored the first goal in the 2008 MLS Cup.
Midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi was also part of the championship squad before being traded to Los Angeles prior to the 2009 season then acquired in the expansion draft by Philly. He has been forced out of his last two games vs. the Crew due to injuries but he’s started 24 games for the Union.
Heroes & villains
Sebastien Le Toux vs. Chad Marshall: The Philly forward has been a phenom since his arrival from Seattle this season and is lethal shooting or passing but Marshall, a two-time MLS Defender of the Year, is no slouch.
“There are a lot of good defenders [in MLS],” Le Toux said. “The next one I’m going to face is Chad Marshall, and he’s very good.”
Stat that makes you go “Hmm...”
MLS' most recent two expansion teams won in their first visits to Crew Stadium: San Jose (2-0) in 2008 and Seattle (1-0) last year.