Union could get help from newcomer Dockal vs. Crew
Philadelphia Union designated player signing Borek Dockal will most likely make his debut on Saturday night. When he does, he and the Union will almost certainly face a stiffer challenge from Columbus Crew SC than in a season-opening win two weeks ago.
Philadelphia's 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution on March 3 was the first look at a team that underwent limited but substantial offseason tweaks, most notably the addition of winger David Accam in January and Dockal days before the season began.
But the game offered little in terms of a realistic preview of how that roster might fare against typical MLS opposition. Instead, Philadelphia cruised to the most straightforward of wins when New England had one player sent off after only 24 minutes and another dispatched with five minutes to play.
Dockal didn't see the field that evening, as the Czech international continued the process of settling into his new club and city, and also recovering from a minor ankle injury.
With the team getting a bye week after the win, Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin is confident that enough recovery and acclimation time has passed for Dockal to make a positive impact against Columbus.
"He's had his best two days of training, and they've been his last two days," Curtin said Wednesday. "We're happy with where he's at. The ankle is fully healed. It'll be a matter of deciding the minute load."
The Union face a Columbus side that has made arguably the most impressive start of any Eastern Conference team.
After defeating defending MLS Cup champions Toronto FC on the road in their opener, Crew SC followed with a dramatic 3-2 win over the Montreal Impact to begin their home slate.
Off-season arrival Gyasi Zardes scored twice in that one, including a game-winning penalty he converted in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time.
The former LA Galaxy striker has found the net three times in just two appearances for Columbus -- more goals than he scored in the entirety of a miserable 2017 campaign with LA.
Crew SC acquired Zardes as an add-on to the allocation money they received from LA for Ola Kamara, who scored 31 goals in two seasons with Columbus. While Zardes had struggled for the last few seasons, the 26-year-old does have a 16-goal season on his resume from 2014.
"That's why he has his experience, and that's why he's scored a lot of goals in his career," Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said after the 3-2 win. "He's confident in those moments. They're not easy moments."
Federico Higuain also scored his 50th career MLS goal -- all for Columbus -- in the win over Montreal, leaving him one assist shy of the league's 50-50 club.
Other than Dockal, Philadelphia enters the match completely healthy after their week off. Center back Josh Williams (foot) is questionable for Columbus.
Updated March 16, 2018