Major League Soccer

Union-Crew Preview

Caleb Porter is targeting a clean sweep of honors this year as Columbus Crew prepare to get their MLS Cup defense under way with a home match against Philadelphia Union.

Columbus beat Supporters' Shield winners Philadelphia twice last season en route to winning a second MLS Cup crown, 12 years on from their only previous triumph.

The Crew lost all four of their pre-season friendlies, but they saw off Nicaraguan side Real Esteli 5-0 on aggregate in the CONCACAF Champions League last 16 this week.

Having strengthened during the close-season, Porter is hopeful of challenging on multiple fronts in his quest for greatness.

"I don't think you accomplish anything unless you believe, and more importantly you get your players believing, what is possible," he said.

"We want to win Champions League. One hundred percent. No MLS team has ever done it. We want to win MLS Cup back-to-back - only three teams have done that.

"We'd like to compete for the Shield because it's been some time since the club has done that. We want to be great, and if you want to be great, you've got to do it again."

Philadelphia won their first piece of silverware after finishing top of the overall standings last season, only to lose against New England Revolution in the playoffs.

The Union have also been in Champions League action this week, beating Deportivo Saprissa 5-0 on aggregate, and head coach Jim Curtin is now relishing the start of a new MLS season.

"I'm really happy with where the group is going into a tough matchup against Columbus," he said.

"It is a great exercise for us to play the MLS Cup champions as the Supporters' Shield winners, and again in front of a big television crowd.

"Obviously Columbus is a very well coached team by Caleb Porter, but I know our players will be up for the task."

Columbus Crew - Gyasi Zardes

Porter rested Zardes for the second leg of the Champions League tie with Esteli, meaning the United States international will be in good shape for this opening league game.Zardes scored seven goals at home last season - the joint-most in the division alongside Seattle Sounders' Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris.

Philadelphia Union - Kacper Przybylko

Przybylko scored in both legs of the routine win over Saprissa to get his campaign off to a flying start.The Polish striker, now into his fourth season with Philadelphia, will be looking to improve on the eight goals scored in the 2020 MLS campaign this time around.

-- Columbus has won three straight matches against the Union, including beating the Supporters' Shield winners twice last season, both at home. The Union have won only two of their 15 all-time visits to Columbus (D2 L11), failing to win any of their last six match at the Crew (D1 L5).

-- Columbus lifted its second MLS Cup title on the back of a strong defense in last season's playoffs. The Crew kept clean sheets in each of their final three play-off matches after conceding at least once in their previous 12 games.

-- Philadelphia won its first piece of silverware last season, the Supporters' Shield, despite losing their season opening game in Dallas. The Union have struggled to start seasons, winning just two of their 11 season-opening matches (D3 L6).

-- Zardes had scored in five out of six home games heading into the Eastern Conference Final last season, but was not involved in a goal in that match or in the MLS Cup.

-- The Union scored 10 goals from outside the box in the 2020 MLS season, four more than any other team. Anthony Fontana and Przybylko each scored two goals from outside the box, but the league leader was the Crew's Lucas Zelarayan with three.

Updated April 17, 2021