Crew-Union Preview

The Associated Press

Sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture but still very much in contention, the Columbus Crew know they can't afford to leave points behind going forward.

Seeking a season-best third consecutive win, visiting Columbus tries to take advantage of what appears to be a favorable matchup Wednesday night against the offensively challenged Philadelphia Union.

The seventh-place Crew (10-8-6) sit three points behind sixth-place Montreal and four back of D.C. for the fifth and final playoff berth in the East, but they have at least one game in hand on all of the teams they're chasing. With 10 games remaining and Saturday's showdown with the Impact looming, Columbus understands the importance of Wednesday's contest.

"We are in the time of the season that we have to win games if we want to even think about the playoffs," coach Robert Warzycha told the Crew's official website. "Winning games gets us into the playoffs. We have to be thinking about one thing: how can we go to (Philadelphia) and get three points."

While Columbus suffered a 1-0 loss in its last visit to PPL Park on April 14, it carries plenty of momentum into this one. The Crew are coming off back-to-back victories, beating New England 4-3 on Saturday behind two goals each from Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta.

Arrieta scored the winner in the 86th minute, his fifth goal in eight games with Columbus.

"I think we're motivated every game to get three points," said captain Chad Marshall, who has a chance to become the club's all-time leader in minutes played with 81 on Wednesday.

"I think we know at this point in the season how important each game is, especially against Eastern Conference rivals. We're going to be looking to play better than last time we went (to Philadelphia) and trying to get three points."

Though things seem to be looking up for the Crew - especially with Higuain making a major impact with three goals and two assists in his first three games with the club - they're just 1-3-2 over their last six road games.

Their goalkeeper situation is also uncertain. Andy Gruenebaum had played every minute before suffering a lower back contusion Saturday. He was replaced by Matt Lampson at halftime, and it's unclear which player will be in net Wednesday.

"(Gruenebaum) said he's feeling much better than (Sunday) or the day before," Warzycha told the league's official website. "The way he is progressing he may play but we may not use him because we may need him for the next game (against Montreal)."

The Crew could benefit from facing a Union club that's struggled to generate much offense of late. Philadelphia (7-12-4) has totaled two goals while posting an 0-2-2 record this month.

While the Union played to a scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake on Friday, their fans had plenty to cheer for during Danny Cruz's home debut.

"I haven't been here that long at all, but I feel so comfortable and I was overwhelmed with the fan support," Cruz, acquired from D.C. on Aug. 16, told the Union's official website.

"It's been such a whirlwind experience and everything has happened so quick. To be wearing this uniform makes me proud, and I'm going to do all I can to help the club win a whole lot of games."