Preview: Points at a premium for Eastern foes Union, Crew

Philadelphia Union and the Columbus Crew play a vital match for Eastern Conference placing when the clubs meet Saturday evening at PPL Park. Union are just hanging on to third place in the division and an automatic qualification spot, their winless streak now at eight games after a scoreless draw with Portland. The Crew pulled back in front in the East by a point after their midweek 2-2 draw with the Houston Dynamo.

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REFEREE: Alex Prus. SAR (bench): Chris Strickland; JAR (opposite): Adam Garner; 4th: Edvin Jurisevic
MLS Career: 187 games; FC/gm: 27.3; Y/gm: 3.2; R: 42; pens: 50

INJURY REPORT: PHILADELPHIA UNION – OUT: GK Faryd Mondragon (R ring finger fracture); FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); DOUBTFUL: MF Justin Mapp (L quad strain); PROBABLE: FW Veljko Paunovic (L calf strain); FW Sebastien Le Toux (L hip pointer) …

COLUMBUS CREW – OUT: MF Tony Tchani (R knee surgery); MF Eddie Gaven (R lower leg contusion); FW Emilio Renteria (concussion); DOUBTFUL: MF Bernardo Anor (R ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: GK Andy Gruenebaum (R thumb fracture); GK Alex Riggs (concussion)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: CLB: Emmanuel Ekpo (through Sept. 17)
WARNINGS:
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: PHI: Danny Califf … CLB: Kevin Burns, Sebastian Miranda
SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: PHI: Brian Carroll, Danny Mwanga, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams ... CLB: Tommy Heinemann, William Hesmer, Dejan Rusmir, Tony Tchani

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (3 meetings): Union 0 wins, 3 goals … Crew 3 wins, 7 goals … Ties 0
AT PHILADELPHIA (1 meeting): Union 0 wins, 1 goal … Crew 1 wins, 2 goals … Ties 0
•    The teams met less than a month ago for the first time this season, goals from Emilio Rentería and Andrés Mendoza bracketing a Veljko Paunovic goal as the Crew took a 2-1 win, Aug. 20 in Columbus.
•    The Crew have now won all three meetings all-time between the teams, winning both meetings in Union’s inaugural season last year, a 2-1 win at PPL Park and a 3-1 win at Crew Stadium.
•    Coaches record:  Peter Nowak v CLB: P15 W6 L5 D4 … Robert Warzycha vs. PHI: P3 W3 L0 D0

LAST MEETING (MLS)
8/20: CLB 2, PHI 1 (Renteria 37; Mendoza 51 – Paunovic 42)
•    The Crew took the lead after 37 minutes. Andres Mendoza freed Robbie Rogers on the left side of the Union box with a through ball, and his cross found Emilio Rentería, who cleverly one-timed a bouncing shot in over the line at the far post.
•    Five minutes later, Union equalized. Keon Daniel delivered a perfect corner kick from the right side and Veljko Paunovic ran past Justin Meram to head home.
•    But six minutes into the second half, the Crew again took the lead. Referee Mark Kadlecik ruled Philadelphia defender Sheanon Williams knocked down a cross with his arm, and Mendoza again grabbed the ball for the penalty. Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón dove to his left and looked to have made the save, only to see the ball spin under him and over the line.
•    COLUMBUS CREW (4-1-3-2): William Hesmer - Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Gardner - Kevin Burns - Justin Meram (Dilly Duka 60), Emmanuel Ekpo, Robbie Rogers - Andres Mendoza (Bernardo Anor 76), Emilio Renteria (Tommy Heinemann 70).
•    PHILADELPHIA UNION (4-1-2-1-2): Faryd Mondragon - Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan - Stefani Miglioranzi - Justin Mapp (Michael Farfan 60), Keon Daniel (Jack McInerney 73) - Sebastien Le Toux - Danny Mwanga (Freddy Adu 60), Veljko Paunovic.

PHILADELPHIA UNION
Philadelphia Union saw their winless run extended to eight games, playing to a scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers on Saturday evening at PPL Park. Union have 36 points from 27 matches on the year, now in third place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH
•    Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath was credited with one save on the night, a stop of Timbers striker Jorge Perlaza just before the halftime break. Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins made three stops on the night.
•    Union nearly grabbed all three points late, but Kyle Nakazawa's first-time effort off a Justin Mapp cross clipped the crossbar.
•    Union manager Peter Nowak made two changes to the team that came back for a 4-4 draw with the New England Revolution at PPL Park. Michael Farfan came back in for brother Gabriel at left back, and Danny Mwanga came into the side for Stefani Miglioranzi.
•    PHILADELPHIA UNION (4-1-3-2): Zac MacMath - Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Michael Farfan - Brian Carroll - Freddy Adu (Jack McInerney 63), Roger Torres (Justin Mapp 57), Sebastien Le Toux - Danny Mwanga, Veljko Paunovic (Kyle Nakazawa 77).

TEAM NEWS
•    Union have now gone eight games without a win after the draw with Portland at home, their last win coming July 17 vs. New England.
•    “The longer you go without winning there’s obviously more pressure coming back and getting your first win,”said 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.”
•    The eight-game winless streak is a club record; Union have come away with draws in five of those games. After completing the three-game homestand against Columbus, they have four of their final six games away from PPL Park.
•    “It’s about mental strength,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “How will you overcome this? How will you keep going? There are a lot of things we need to talk about. We need to show players, in some capacity, that we need to do better.”
•    Making his second professional start – and days after seeing the New England Revolution beat him for four first-half goals – Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath recorded his first shutout in the draw with Portland.
•    “I think he was very good, stable – he gave a lot of confidence to the back line. That whole back line played a very good exceptional game. Very good and stable performance even with the four goals last game on Wednesday,” said Nowak. “I think he did very well, especially in the second half – the first half he didn’t have too much to prove himself from.”
•    Said MacMath: “It was like night and day for me. I think everyone came out and concentrated on getting a good start to the first half and we continued that throughout the game.”
•    It was the first defensive shutout for Union since their last victory. They had allowed 10 goals in their previous four games and 14 goals since that last clean sheet, after allowing just 16 goals in their first 18 league games.
•    “I thought our defense played well and I thought Zac MacMath did what we needed him. I thought we played well today and we got some chances. Unfortunately we didn’t finish,” said Sheanon Williams. “But the goals will come. We’re just waiting. Anytime you get 0-0, take a chance to win. We have to throw a lot back and keep that going for the rest of the season. The goals will definitely come.”
•    After missing two consecutive games with a foot injury, Brian Carroll started for a second straight match vs. Portland and had what Nowak called an “exceptional game”.
•    “I think holding down the middle was more of a responsibility tonight and in the second half against New England just because we pushed so many numbers forward,” Carroll said. “It’s more about just locking down the counterattack. You just have to keep the play moving and keep everything safe.”
•    Union announced the acquisition of 21-year-old defender Joe Tait, who has spent the last two seasons in the PDL with the Baton Rouge Capitals (2010) and Dayton Dutch Lions (2011). He also played in England with Hartlepool United.

COLUMBUS CREW
The Columbus Crew regained the lead in the Eastern Conference, following a 2-2 draw Wednesday with the Houston Dynamo at Crew Stadium. The Crew have 41 points from 28 games on the season, back in front of Sporting Kansas City by one point.

LAST MATCH
•    The Crew were down to 10 men after just 11 minutes when midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo by referee Chris Penso. The Dynamo then took the lead in the 34th minute, when Je-Vaughn got over Columbus defender Chad Marshall to snap a header past goalkeeper William Hesmer from a pinpoint cross from the right flank by Jermaine Taylor.
•    But the Crew pulled ahead on a pair of penalty kicks, both converted by Andres Mendoza. After Cam Weaver was ruled to have handled a cross in the 64th minute, Mendoza converted his first, then Penso again pointed to the spot 12 minutes later when Dilly Duka was fouled in a challenge by Watson, and Mendoza gave the home side the lead.
•    Yet the Dynamo had one final answer. Geoff Cameron ran out a through ball slipped in by Danny Cruz and cut a low cross into the heart of the area. Calen Carr turned onto it and lashed it first-time into the roof of the goal for the leveler.
•    Crew head coach Robert Warzycha made three changes to the team that fell 4-2 to Toronto FC at Crew Stadium. Shaun Francis came in at left back for Josh Gardner, Danny O'Rourke started in midfield for Rich Balchan, and Tommy Heinemann came in up top for Emilio Renteria.
•    COLUMBUS CREW (4-4-2): William Hesmer - Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall (Eric Gehrig 46), Julius James, Shaun Francis - Dilly Duka (Justin Meram 77), Danny O'Rourke, Emmanuel Ekpo (sent off 11), Robbie Rogers - Andres Mendoza (Dejan Rusmir 91+), Tommy Heinemann.

TEAM NEWS
•    The Crew nosed back in front of Kansas City atop the Eastern Conference with the single point. Both clubs now have six games remaining in the regular season.
•    “Sometimes we have no energy, but from the red card in the 11th minute we played harder because we knew we were going to have to work so hard to get anything,” said Crew head coach Robert Warzycha. “I was very happy with everybody’s fight and performances. Even with 10 men we had some good combinations.”
•    Andres Mendoza moved into a tie for second place in the MLS Golden Boot standings, now with 11 goals. Mendoza is 5-for-5 from the penalty spot. It was his third two-goal game of the season.
•    “He held the ball for us and he was very clean and responsible in the middle of the field. I was very happy with his performance. It was our plan to have him drop anyway. It’s good for him to get almost 90 minutes,” said Warzycha.
•    With Ekpo sent off after just 11 minutes, Mendoza dropped into the midfield with Tommy Heinemann left to forage on his own as a lone striker. Heinemann was starting in place of Emilio Renteria, sidelined with a concussion.
•    “They asked me to play a little further back. I’ve played in that position a little bit before. I felt comfortable there, and thought I was able to help hold the ball quite a bit more there,” Mendoza said.
•    The day before the match, Chad Marshall was not able to complete the training session, and he was forced off at halftime after suffering a hip injury when knocked to the ground early in the match. Eric Gehrig came on as his replacement, his first appearance since Aug. 5.
•    Marshall had played every minute of every league match this season. Warzycha said he will undergo an MRI examination before the Philadelphia match.
•    Danny O’Rourke made his first start of the season, after undergoing knee surgery following the end of last season. His lone league appearance had come July 2 against FC Dallas.
•    “The next game is very important. We have to go into Philadelphia and they’ve been very good at home,” said O’Rourke. “They’re one of those teams that’s breathing down our throat, and they’ve been very good at home. 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.”
•    Shaun Francis also made his first start of the season, coming in at left back. Francis had played just four minutes, against New York on June 4, enduring a series of hamstring and groin problems over the year.