COLUMBUS, Ohio – When the Columbus Crew host their home opener against the Philadelphia Union Saturday in Crew Stadium (6 pm ET, MLS Live), head coach Gregg Berhalter knows the team will be in for a challenge.
And after using his team’s bye week to travel to Philadelphia to watch the Union defeat the New England Revolution last weekend, the Crew boss is giving them a lot of credit.
“I think it's a solid team; it's a good team, a well-coached team with some very good players,” Berhalter said Thursday. “I respect them, and I think they're quality. Having watched them for two games, they started the season very well, and it's going to be a tough game.”
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Berhalter noted at practice this week that the Crew would need to worry about the front four attackers for the Union – presumably the likes of Jack McInerny, Cristian Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux and Vincent Nogueria – but called Philadelphia an “interesting team,” Thursday, and said that the Crew won't be focusing just on defending the Union attack.
“We have to be careful in terms of our game,” he said. “It's an opponent that we respect, and an opponent that will give us problems.”
The teams employ a similar 4-2-3-1 formation, but Crew captain Michael Parkhurst said the styles of play aren't comparable, though there are similarities in the organizations.
“I don't think tactically they play exactly like us,” he said. “But they'll pose challenges. Similar to us, they do have a new group, and it seems like they've gelled pretty quickly as well, and they've gotten some results.”
One of those challenges, Berhalter said, is a tough defense that has only allowed one goal in two matches. Finding a way to get past them, he said, will be the key.
“They've been defending well, they haven't been giving up many chances,” Berhalter said. “So what we're going to focus on is keys to unlock them, and how we think we can break them down.”
The Crew defeated the Union 1-0 when the two teams faced off Feb. 22 in the preseason, and Parkhurst said the match was a good opportunity to scout the Union.
“We did play them in preseason, so we do have a little familiarity in that sense,” Berhalter added. “But we'll watch a little bit of tape and we'll be ready. We're confident.”