Chester, PA – In arguably the most important Major League Soccer fixture of the weekend, the Philadelphia Union will host the Columbus Crew at PPL Park with both teams battling for position in the Eastern Conference ahead of the playoffs.
The Union are holding onto third place in the East, tied with Houston Dynamo for an automatic qualification spot with 36 points apiece. The Crew, meanwhile, took sole possession of first place in the East after a midweek 2-2 draw with the Dynamo brought them to 41 points on the season.
Philadelphia once looked like an automatic lock to make the playoffs, spending much of the season in first place.
But even while it is still in good position to qualify for the postseason, an eight-game winless skid, with its last win coming against the New England Revolution on July 17, has placed some added pressure on the club to pick up points down the stretch.
"The longer you go without winning there's obviously more pressure coming back and getting your first win," said Union midfielder Kyle Nakazawa. "We haven't won I think since New England in July. I think it's all in the back of our heads. What we're really trying to do is just focus on each game one at a time."
Ensuring that the defense remains in tact will be crucial for the Union. They are coming off of a 0-0 home draw against the Portland Timbers, the first shutout they have kept since defeating New England in July. The Union have conceded 14 goals since their last win, after conceding just 16 goals in their opening 18 league games.
For Columbus, its midweek draw against Houston felt a bit like a moral victory for the club, as it played with ten men for much of the match after Emmanuel Ekpo was sent off in the 11th minute. The team effort earned praise from head coach Robert Warzycha.
"I was very happy with everybody's fight and performances," said the Columbus boss. "Even with ten men, we had some good combinations."
Danny O'Rourke made his first start of the season after undergoing knee surgery at the end of last year. He could be poised for another appearance in the starting eleven at PPL Park.
"[The Union are] one of those teams that are breathing down our throat, and they've been very good at home," O'Rourke said. "It's important that we get back at it and take it to Philly, and then we'll focus on the next game after that."
Columbus took three points in its last meeting with Philadelphia on August 20, as the Crew topped the Union 2-1 at Crew Stadium with goals from Emilio Renteria and Andres Mendoza. Veljko Paunovic netted the consolation goal for Philadelphia.