Photo: Frank Fimmano

Photo: Frank Fimmano

Match Preview: Union at Columbus Crew SC, Saturday September 29th at 7:30 PM

The Philadelphia Union will hit the road on Saturday for a match against Columbus Crew SC that has massive playoff implications.

The previous road game didn’t go over so well. The hangover I hoped I’d have from celebrating the Union’s first trophy never happened. The champagne is still in the refrigerator. The Union came out flat against the Houston Dynamo in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday, and tore the hearts out of the Union fanbase. When it comes to the U.S. Open Cup, next year is always our year.

Yet the boys in blue don’t have time to mope about that big letdown. There is another trophy out there waiting to be had, and hopefully the disappointing end to the Union’s Open Cup run will harden their resolve to go deep into the MLS playoffs. And who knows, once you’re in the playoffs anything can happen. Win an MLS Cup and no one will remember that soul-crushing loss we experienced this week.

There may be no hardware at stake with this weekend’s match, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a big match. The Union are only one point behind the fourth place Crew in the Eastern Conference standings. And this is important, because a fourth place finish means hosting a match in the initial knockout round of the MLS Playoffs. That is huge.

Columbus is no pushover though. They have a good defense anchored by centerback Jonathan Mensah. Wil Trapp is one of the better holding midfielders in the league; Federico Higuain is a dangerous number 10; and striker Gyasi Zardes is good enough to be called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team on a regular basis. Zack Steffen is proven goalkeeper between the pipes. On top of all that, Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter is rumored to be a favorite in for the USMNT vacant head coach position, a job search being run by the Union’s former Sporting Director Earnie Stewart.

Of course, Columbus is also dealing with the behind-the-scenes drama that comes with the potential move of the franchise to Austin, TX. Berhalter has done a good job of insulating the team from all that.

Union head coach Jim Curtin played his entire A team for the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday night. It will be interesting to see if he gives anyone a rest, but considering the stakes here, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the exact same lineup again. Hopefully Auston Trusty gets over what was perhaps his worst performance ever wearing the Blue and Gold, and Cory Burke can get back to his scoring ways.

The Crew don’t suck, though they do struggle to finish chances, just like we saw from the Union before Burke became the regular striker. As far as the Union go, I think losing the U.S. Open Cup will light a fire under them, and they’ll come out as the good team we saw throughout August and most of September. It’s tough to win on the road, but the Union have been doing well with that lately, and I predict they’ll take home three points. Prediction: Union 2, Crew 0.

Kickoff will be at 7:30 PM and the match will televised on PHL17. And congratulations to Union play-by-play man J.P. Dellacamera for being this year’s recipient of U.S. Soccer’s Colin Jose Media Award. He’ll accept it at the upcoming National Soccer Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Frisco, Texas, on Oct. 20.