By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
Columbus Crew might be sitting below the playoff line, but they’re coming into this game with an immense boost of confidence after defeating Cruz Azul to win the Campeones Cup on Wednesday night. On the other hand, the Union are coming off a tie with the New York Red Bulls.
Jim Curtin highlighted the importance of the remaining games in the regular season, emphasizing how every team is fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the playoffs.
“We said it with Red Bulls and we’ll say it again with Columbus, these are great teams that are now fighting for every point,” Curtin said in a press conference. “There’s not many games left and one of the hardest things to do is play your best in a big pressure game against a good opponent that has a little bit of desperation to get three points. It will be a real challenge and they will put in a lot for the game, but the challenge is can we use that against them.”
Curtin also outlined the Union’s own ambitions for the postseason, saying, “We want to take as many points as possible. The end goal is to host a playoff game, not just get in. Every point is going to matter down the stretch and every player is going to have a role; the message is to be ready.”
Every point will matter for the Boys In Blue, considering that they’ll be without some key players for this match. Jose Martinez will be unavailable for selection due to yellow card accumulation, while Olivier Mbaizo has been excused to return back to Cameroon following the passing of his father. Several players will likely be absent in the near future due to World Cup Qualifying matches.
As usual, the defense will not be a cause for concern in this game. Andre Blake and his back line have given up just 26 goals in 26 games, tying the Eastern Conference for fewest goals allowed. Although Mbaizo’s absence is not preferable, it’s unlikely that his replacement will do anything to derail the uniformity of this Union defense.
The offense is a different story. They’re still trying to get their feet under them after a hitting a recent rough patch, and are still struggling to put more than one or two goals on the board. With Martinez, it’s likely that Curtin will rearrange his midfield diamond to put Leon Flach in that number six role. This will open up the number eight position for Jamiro Monteiro, and move Daniel Gazdag into the number 10 spot.
Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos will have a chance to continue strengthening their partnership, now that Cory Burke is out with an injury.
Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Alvas Powell, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Daniel Gazdag, Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybyłko
- Powell is the only significant change in this lineup, but he’s proven that he can fare well in this back four. Gazdag will have another chance to prove himself a worthy competitor for the number 10 spot, and should combine well with a newly-invigorated Przybylko and Santos duo.
Score Prediction: A home crowd is always good for the Union, and now that they’ve been propelled back into playoff contention, they have everything to fight for. The team has had a stretch of good results and even better performances, both individually and as a unit, so this consistent run can only help them against Columbus. It might also be the perfect opportunity for the offense to finally show the full extent of what they’re capable of, which would be a satisfying 3-1 win.