Columbus Crew forward Gyasi Zardes (11) attempts a shot during an MLS soccer match against FC Cincinnati, Saturday, July 11, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
- MLS Cup-champion Columbus Crew kick off their title defense by hosting Philadelphia Union on Sunday, April 18
- Both teams are coming off impressive 5-0 aggregate CONCACAF Champions League victories this week
- Read on for a full preview, odds, and the best bet for Sunday’s MLS season opener
The last time the Columbus Crew played an MLS game, they were busy putting the finishing touches on arguably the most dominant MLS Cup win of all-time, with their 3-0 victory over the defending-champion Seattle Sounders the most one-sided scoreline in the title game’s history.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Union had designs on being in that championship match after winning the Supporters’ Shield as the best regular-season team, but were unexpectedly upended in the first round proper of the playoffs. Now the two powerhouse Eastern Conference teams prepare to kick off their 2021 campaigns on Sunday, April 18, in what looks to be one of the most tightly contested, high-quality matches of Major League Soccer’s opening weekend.
Crew vs Union Odds
|Matchup||Spread||Moneyline at Fox Bet||Total|
|Columbus Crew vs
|COL -1.0 (+225) | PHI +1.0 (-110)||COL -118 | PHI +290
|Ov 2.5 (-118) | Un 2.5 (-118)|
All odds as of April 16
Crew Rolling Into New Season
With a largely unchanged roster, bolstered by the addition of veteran attackers Kevin Molino and Bradley Wright-Phillips, Columbus is looking like one of the early favorites to challenge for another MLS Cup, although Molino will miss the early going with an injury.
And if the team already looked formidable on paper, it proved to be pretty formidable in actuality, too, with their two-legged CONCACAF Champions League win over CD Real Esteli of Nicaragua. The Crew took a stranglehold on the tie with a 4-0 road win, before advancing with a 1-0 home victory on Thursday. Last season’s leading scorer, Zyasi Gardes, warmed up for this game with a brace in Nicaragua, while Wright-Phillips got off the mark for his new club in the return.
Philly Off To A Flier
Whatever Columbus can do, Philadelphia was only too happy to match this week, winning 4-0 at home to accompany its 1-0 away victory in Costa Rica against Deportivo Saprissa – in the Union’s first ever competitive international fixture.
And last season’s leading scorer, Kacper Przybylko, got his 2021 season off to a flier too, with a goal in each leg.
Columbus Safe At Home
As far as the head-to-head rivalry goes, the Crew are on top, especially at home in Ohio. Caleb Porter’s team is undefeated in the past six games between the two sides at Historic Crew Stadium, a run that features five wins.
OH MY GOODNESS, LUCAS ZELARAYAN ☄️ pic.twitter.com/LgmaVKq2bm
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 12, 2020
Columbus also won the only two matches between the sides last year – which were both played in Ohio – with a single goal separating the teams on each occasion. In fact, Jamiro’s second-half penalty in the second fixture last year ended a run of 521-minute goalless run for the Union in Columbus.
Conversely though, the Union are undefeated in their last four meetings with Columbus back in Philadelphia.
Columbus Crew vs Philadelphia Union Stats
|12-6-5||2021 MLS Record (W-L-D)||14-5-4|
Union Slow Out Of The Gate
Philadelphia has developed something of a reputation as a slow starter throughout its 11-year history, . The team has a record of two wins, six losses and three draws in its 11 season openers so far – all of which have been on the road. Philly last won a season opener back in 2018.
🗣 SHIELD VS CUP#DOOP pic.twitter.com/abKqg89zzA
— PhilaUnion🛡 (@PhilaUnion) April 16, 2021
The same can hardly be said for Columbus. Although the Crew are hovering around .500, with a record of just 10-9-6 in season openers, at home they’ve been nothing but dominant, going 13-3-9 there. If that record doesn’t present enough of an obstacle for Philadelphia, it might want to consider that Columbus is also undefeated in its last four season openers.
The Union will also have to deal with the loss of a pair of influential players this season. Midfielder Brenden Aaronson left for RB Salzburg in Austria, while key defender Mark McKenzie headed to Belgium with Genk. The team will also have to replace the franchise’s all-time leader in minutes played when Ray Geddis retired in the off-season.
The Philadelphia Union are set to receive around $13 million in separate transfers for Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg) and Mark McKenzie (Genk) plus more in incentives and sell-on fees.
In a pandemic, no less. Won the Supporters’ Shield first. Incredible business. pic.twitter.com/27TUWy0Wf7
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) December 29, 2020
However, that transition will be helped by having reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Andre Blake, backstopping the Union defense.
Best bet: Columbus Crew -1.0 (+225)
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For the last 20 years, Paul Attfield has worked in sports media. Starting out in his native Britain with the likes of The Independent, he eventually switched continents, with his work appearing in the likes of the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Yahoo Sports since.