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Columbus at Philly - match preview and why RSL fans should care

Well ESPN2 will be bringing us some MLS action tonight as the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Columbus Crew will make their first journey to PPL Park home of the Philadelphia Union.  Some RSL fans may consider this a pointless match and not pay much attention to it, but it is anything but pointless for RSL and their fans.

Supporter's Shield:

Real Salt Lake sit with 34 points, and realistically a chance to be in contention for the Supporter's Shield, the fan based trophy for the team who finishes the MLS season with the most points.  Right now both RSL and Columbus have the same 10-4-4 record, and both are chasing the 12-3-4 Los Angeles Galaxy in the race for what many consider the only real trophy that matters (mainly those who hate playoffs and love the European model).  This match will greatly impact the race for the Supporter's Shield.

Upcoming Opponents:

Real Salt Lake will face both teams playing tonight within 10 days, so seeing how they are playing and watching for injuries or anything that could give us an advantage is very important.  Real Salt Lake will face off against the Philadelphia Union on the 11th, and then head home to defend their league leading 20 match home unbeaten streak against the Columbus Crew on the 14th.  The longest ever streak in MLS history is 22 home matches without a defeat and is held by, you guessed it the Columbus Crew.

after the jump is my match preview of tonight's Columbus at Philly matchup:

After the huge year that the Seattle Sounders had during their expansion year last season, some expected the same from the Union, but the reality is that they are much more like an average expansion team.  They do have one advantage and that is a brand new stadium and a home heavy schedule for the last half of the MLS season.  The Crew have a bit of a chip on their shoulder, see they still refuse to acknowledge that they got beat by a better RSL side last year.  So they have played hard and had some late calls go their way, all leading to them having the best record in the Eastern Conference.

The Union have a great mix of youth and experience and have started to gel as a team, they are 2-1-3 in their last 6 matches which isn't bad for any team.  They are battling some injuries that will impact their lineup as well as their bench: OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture); PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (L groin strain); FW Alejandro Moreno (R knee contusion); FW Danny Mwanga (R ankle sprain); MF Roger Torres (R ankle sprain).  

It looks like the Union staff may have made one of the best ever decision in an expansion draft, as they picked up a clear leader in the MVP race in Sebastien Le Toux, who has 8 goals and 7 assists.  It also looks like they did a great job in the MLS SuperDraft, picking Danny Mwanga, who already has 5 goals and 2 assists in just 12 matches.  The problem is depth as only 5 players have contributed assists so far this season, they have a total of 20, the news on the finishing end is a bit better as 7 players who have found the back of the net but only 3 of them have done so more than once (Le Toux-7, Mwanga-5, Fred-2).  On defense the team struggled early and only DC United's 31 goals allowed is more than Philly's 27, but they seem to have rallied a bit lately, as they have only allowed one team to score more than one goal against them in their last 5 MLS matches.  They also can count on their home fans, who have lead them to a 3-1-2 home record, not too bad for an expansion team.

The Columbus Crew come in likely a bit shell-shocked after their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Chivas USA, they are just 2-2-0 in their last 4 with a home loss to KC a couple weeks ago as well.  On top of their recent struggles comes an injury to one of their key players as Eddie Gaven is listed as out with a concussion, and with 3 goals and 3 assists it is clear that he will be missed.  Also injured is Robbie Rogers, he is listed as doubtful for the match.  One upside for the Crew is the recent performances of Emilio Renteria, who has scored 4 goals but 3 of them have been game winners.  Of course when you talk about the Crew's offense you have to know that the "go to" guy is GBS (Guillermo Barros Schelotto) who is always a guy talked about as a league MVP, this year he leads the Crew with 5 goals and 6 assists.  The offensive key for the Crew is scoring more than one goal, they only have two 1-0 wins this year.

Their defense is also under the gun a bit, Will Hesmer has an impressive 0.89 GAA with 8 clean sheets, but only once this year have the Crew allowed multiple goals and still come out with a win.  In fact 7 of their 10 wins have come in matches when they have kept their opponent off the scoreboard.  They have been trying some new lineups on their backline as Frankie Hejduk continues to come back from an injury and Gino Padula is listed as out for the match.  Shaun Francis has stepped in recently the 23 year old from Jamaica has yet to claim the spot on a permanent basis.  On the road the Crew defense has allowed 10 goals in 8 matches and the team has a 2-2-4 record, and they have just a single win (1-4-2) when allowing an opponent to score first.

I actually think this will be an entertaining match, it is the first time these two teams have ever faced off and the aggressive style of the Union might just catch Columbus napping, but it is clear that both of these teams have some offensive power and tend to strike late in matches.  Columbus has 9 goals in the last 15 minutes of matches, and Philly has 8, the Union have given up 3 goals in the last 15 minutes, while the Crew have allowed 5 to be scored on them late.  This one is likely to be a 1-1 draw but whichever team scores first will have a good shot at pulling off a win, combined they are 12-1-3 when scoring first.