Columbus Crew SC showed its mettle last Saturday by forging 0-0 tie at Seattle Sounders FC despite playing down a man for nearly the entire match.
As good as the result was, there’s little time to reflect and recover as the Major League Soccer schedule goes into overdrive when the Crew (4-3-3) host the Philadelphia Union (2-4-2) on Wednesday night at Mapfre Stadium.
With another home match on the slate Saturday vs. the Chicago Fire, this stretch of three games in eight days was already going to test the roster of Crew coach Gregg Berhalter, but he faces an unexpected challenge.
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Midfielder Pedro Santos — who has one goal and two assists in 10 games, is second on the team with 26 corner kicks and leads MLS with 35 fouls suffered — was red-carded for a serious foul in the 15th minute against the Sounders and will not play against the Union.
Berhalter sat defenders Jonathan Mensa and Harrison Afful and midfielders Niko Hansen and Artur for the Seattle match to prepare them for this week’s games.
There was a likelihood that Santos would have been rested for one of the upcoming two matches against Eastern Conference opponents, but that point is moot. Artur will likely take Santos’ spot.
“We’ll try to regroup and get our guys together and fit,” Berhalter said. “We rested a number of guys (vs. Seattle) so we’ll have some fresh guys. We’ll be able to get some fresh bodies on the field for Wednesday.”
Whoever plays will have a tough time matching the quality of effort on display in the hostile environment at Century Link Field, where the Sounders managed just one shot on goal, making it easy for Zack Steffen to post his first shutout since the third week of the season — at Philadelphia in a scoreless draw.
“It goes to show how much work the guys in front of me did for 75 minutes,” Steffen said after the Seattle match.
That doesn’t bode well for the Union, who have been outscored 8-0 in losing all three road matches this season. The latest setback was a 3-0 defeat at Toronto FC on Friday. After the match against the Crew, the Union’s third consecutive away game is Saturday vs. Montreal.
The Union needs soon to find a way to get results on the road or risk falling out of playoff contention. They are ninth in the East, six points out of a postseason spot.
“We look forward to Columbus and Montreal, two places where Eastern Conference opponents are,” Union coach Jim Curtin said. “They’re big games, six-point games. It’s still early, but now we have some urgency to put on things.”
Philadelphia has lost three of four. Columbus has a win and two ties after losing three straight games.