Peter Nowak isn't scared of the Crew. He's got a posse of his own - and, according to the Union boss, one that costs considerably less.
Sure, Columbus has taken over the top spot in MLS' Eastern Conference, a spot the Union held for a third of the season. But Nowak asks that with all of the Crew's supersized, high-priced personnel what does it have to show for it?
"Look at Columbus and us and compare both teams," Nowak said. "They have big targets that they have paid a lot of money for and what is the production? What, PKs [penalty kicks]? All right. [Emilio] Renteria scores? OK. It's not like these [high salaried) teams create millions of chances and you're sitting there like, 'OK, I can't compare my attacking line to other teams in front of me.' "
This is Philly; here we call those fightin' words.
But Nowak may have a point. Columbus pays a hefty salary to quite a few players. Now, through Generation adidas and other ventures, not all of it comes out of the club's pocket. But to be just five points ahead in what has perennially been the weaker of the league's two conferences isn't astounding. Additionally, the Crew has actually been outscored this season, 36-35. In its defense, Columbus (41 points) showed immense fortitude Wednesday battling back from a 1-0 deficit to earn the equalizer against the Dynamo, saving face at home and staying one point ahead of a surging Sporting Kansas City side.
Tomorrow, a showdown takes place at PPL Park, where Columbus, on short rest following the 2-2 tie Wednesday at home against Houston, will face a club that hasn't won a match since mid-July. Not for a lack of chances, but the Union and the back of the net haven't seen eye to eye for much of the summer when it comes to resulting in three points.
"It's something we are aware of," midfielder-forward Sebastien Le Toux said on his team's inability to finish chances.
Le Toux, last season's leading scorer, started off the season slowly but has started to find his scoring touch of late, leading the club with six goals, scoring three in the last two matches.
"There is going to be more tough games and it's going to be crucial that we get those points," Le Toux said. "We have a playoff-type game coming up with Columbus . . . and we are going to be ready for it."
With that said, it's time for the Union to match the words of its manager, who is rooted behind the notion that his group can get back to the play it displayed in the beginning of the season. The play where it left no doubt that it was a contender. The play that netted six goals in Toronto, an unbeaten streak in the month of March, proving there was a method to Nowak's madness.
WHAT'S UP WITH JDG?
I need to get this off my chest because, frankly, it's baffling.
Juan Diego Gonzalez. He's gone from mainstay in the Union's lineup to relative unknown. The Union has shuffled both Farfan brothers along the back line and this week announced it signed 21-year-old trialist Joe Tait from the Dayton Dutch Lions of USL Pro. Gonzalez stands to collect roughly $194,000 in guaranteed compensation from the club this season despite playing in a pair of friendlies in which he came on as a second-half substitute in both.
MLS isn't the NFL, MLB or NHL. Teams can't afford to pay players six-figure salaries to get a view from the sidelines. Salary caps are tight and despite funding from corporate sponsorships, every dollar is vital. The technical staff looks baffled whenever questioned about JDG's situation, and the most Nowak has provided has been "every player here is an important piece of the club."
Even the ones who aren't contributing?
MLS IN THE MONEY
According to a Sports Business Journal report earlier this week, Major League Soccer is in talks with private equities firm Providence Equities to sell a 25 percent stake in its marketing and media arm, Soccer United Marketing. With SUM valued at upward of $500 million, SBJ states Providence is offering anywhere from $125 to $150 million for its share of the pie. SUM has gone to great lengths to popularize soccer in the Americas, especially in Mexico where a sizable portion of capital has been generated over the past year through tournaments, summer exhibitions, etc.
Should this deal receive a green light, the thought is MLS may sprinkle its newfound wealth among the ownership of its 19 franchises (Montreal arrives in 2012), many of which have been around since the league's inception in 1996. This, in turn, could be used to entice top players from all over the world here to the U.S., raising the league to even higher standards. Apparently, MLS already has a cult following in Europe, specifically in Great Britain. Recently signed Union defender Joe Tait told MLSSoccer.com: "It's a very respectable league [in England]. It's on the telly quite a lot now. There's a lot of publicity about MLS back home."
Something to be said for that.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Upcoming game: Columbus (11-9-8, 41 points) at Union (8-7-12, 36 points)
When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.
Where: PPL Park, Chester
TV: The Comcast Network
On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: This match carries a playoff-type atmosphere, though not serious playoff implications just yet . . . The Crew enters PPL Park on short rest after a Wednesday night clash with Houston, which resulted in a 2-2 draw . . . Columbus forward Emmanuel Ekpo will miss this match because of a red card . . . The Crew is 3-7-3 on the road and rides a three-game winless streak, the worst being a 4-2 loss to last-place Toronto FC . . . The Union signed midfielder Morgan Langley on Wednesday, just ahead of MLS' roster freeze deadline. Langley, 22, arrives from USL Pro affiliate Harrisburg City and is a Division III All-America from nearby Swarthmore College.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
Out for the Union: Faryd Mondragon, GK (right ring finger fracture); Levi Houapeu, FW (left ankle strain)
Doubtful: Justin Mapp, MF (left quad strain)
Probable: Veljko Paunovic, FW (left calf strain); Sebastien Le Toux FW (left hip pointer)
Out for Columbus: Tony Tchani, MF (right knee surgery); Eddie Gaven, MF (right lower leg contusion); Emilio Renteria, FW (concussion)
Doubtful: Bernardo Anor, MF (right ankle sprain)
Questionable: Andy Gruenebaum, GK (right thumb fracture); Alex Riggs, GK (concussion)
TWEET O' THE WEEK
"My signing is official! I am at a loss for words to have an opportunity with such a great club with such an incredible following #DOOP"
- Midfielder Morgan Langley, acquired Wednesday by the Union. Follow Morgan @mlangley15