Claiming two impressive results to begin the season, the thriving Union look to build on their successful start when they face the Federico Higuain-led Columbus Crew on Saturday at Crew Stadium.
Though Columbus hasn't been a productive city for the Union, manager John Hackworth is looking forward to the Eastern Conference challenge.
“I think we’re a team that is feeling good about the way we played the first two games, and yet we know we can improve in many different areas,”Hackworth, whose club took down the New England Revolution last Saturday, 1-0, said. “So it’s a chance for us to make sure we’re taking the positive steps forward and doing that against a quality opponent.”
But taking those positive steps will be easier said than done. With a new coach and renewed vigor, the Crew (1-0-0) began the 2014 season with a bang, dropping DC United, 3-0, on the road.
“I think Gregg Berhalter has done a really good job taking over that team,” Hackworth said. “I think they had some pieces last year that were really good and have continued to play well together. They had a great first game at DC. We played them in the third-to-last pre-season game we played, so we at least have a little bit of a familiarity with
them, but they’re a good team.”
While familiarity is in their favor, there are a number of factors playing against the Union (1-0-1) in this matchup. For one, it’s the Crew’s home opener, which is always an issue for the visiting team. The Crew also had last weekend off, giving them extra time to prepare for the incoming Union.
“Columbus is a great team,” Union back Amobi Okugo said. “We saw them in the first game versus DC and they had a bye week this week, so they had a chance to scout us and rest some guys. They have a revamped squad. Higuain is healthy again, [Michael] Parkhurst is in the back. It’s going to be a tough game, especially away from home and on their home
The Union will also have to contend with the Crew’s dangerous on-field combination of Dominic Oduro and catalyst Higuain. If Hackworth’s club can’t slow down those two, it could be a bad day for the Union.
Higuain had a pair of goals and Jairo Arrieta scored for the Crew’s win over United.
“We’re facing a team of quality,” Hackworth said. “Higuain is the playmaker for them. He can show up all over the field and really unbalance defenses with his movement off the ball but also his ability to make the pass and pick teams apart. It’s going to be a difficult game, no question about it.”
Okugo is focused on shutting down the Crew’s quickness.
“Oduro is a speedy guy,” he said. “Last year, he was probably one of their best players in terms of production. We knew we have to match up with his speed and be aware of him at all times. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, we just need to be prepared for him.”
One thing the Union can’t prepare for is the effect of Crew Stadium -- a place they have notoriously struggled. The Union are 0-3-1 all time in Columbus, outscored, 9-5. The lone draw came last season.
“For whatever reason, it has been a difficult place for us to play over the first four years,” Hackworth said. “All I can tell you is that we don’t really think about those things. We feel like we’re a team that right now has to go out and continually prove that we are capable of performing at the same level we have the last two weeks, and if we do
that, I think we put ourselves sin that good position to be successful in that game.”
Though history won’t be on their side on Saturday, the confident Union expect a good showing.
“Our goal will be the same as always: To go in there and get a result,” Hackworth said. “We were able to do it last year, but that was last year. Our focus is on now and trying to make sure that we establish something and continue to build on the performances we’ve displayed so far.”