Both sides progressed to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals earlier this week and will be full of confidence heading into Sunday's clash at the Columbus Crew Stadium.
After lifting the 2020 MLS Cup last December, beating Seattle Sounders 3-0 in the final, Columbus Crew are well positioned for continued success this campaign.
Little should be read into their 2021 pre-season form, despite losing all four matches and conceding 13 goals in the process, as the Crew have had one eye on their CONCACAF Champions League tie with Nicaraguan side Real Esteli.
Caleb Porter's side won the first leg of their last-16 clash 4-0 away from home, before securing a 1-0 victory on Thursday, cruising 5-0 on aggregate into the quarter-finals. This result means that the MLS will be represented by five clubs at this stage of the competition for the first time; Columbus Crew will be joined by Sunday's opponents Philadelphia as well as Atalanta United, Portland Timbers and Toronto FC.
The Crew have one of the strongest squads in the MLS, with at least two players for every position. Despite this, they still went out and improved their roster further, with their most notable acquisition being striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.
The 36-year-old – who is sixth on the list of all-time leading scorers in MLS history with 116 goals – comes into 2021 after recording eight goals and six assists in 21 appearances last season and is sure to provide stern competition for forward Gyasi Zardes.
Ahead of moving into a new stadium in July, Columbus Crew are on a real high at the moment but after such a successful season last year, expectations are now even higher heading into 2021. Competing on all fronts should not be a problem as they have a talented squad capable of lifting more silverware once again this campaign.
Philadelphia Union head into 2021 after a historic season that saw the club lift their first ever trophy since they were founded in 2008.
Jim Curtin's side won the 2020 Supporters' Shield, finishing top of the overall table and three points clear of Toronto FC but suffered a first-round playoff loss at home to New England Revolution which ended their dreams of completing a domestic double.
This year, Philadelphia will be aiming to achieve even more success, but they will have to make do without two of their biggest stars, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, who both crossed the pond and made big-money moves to Red Bull Salzburg and Genk respectively.
They have managed to keep most of the core group from last season but instead of splashing the cash on replacements for Aaronson and McKenzie, the Union are set to turn to their academy.
A wealth of homegrown talent has emerged at Philadelphia in recent years and their philosophy of giving youngsters a chance has paid off; Curtin is hoping that someone new can now step up and take the club to the next level.
Like Columbus Crew, the Union progressed into the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League courtesy of a 5-0 aggregate win over Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa.
Philadelphia have lost each of their last three meetings with the Crew, but a victory on Sunday would be the perfect way to show how strong they still are and prove that last season's surprising success was not a fluke.
Columbus Crew's attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, who has emerged as one of the biggest talents in the MLS, is set to start on Sunday in the number 10 role, in behind either Zardes or Wright-Phillips.
New recruit Kevin Molino, who scored 13 goals and provided three assists for Minnesota United last season, is ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe is also suffering with a hamstring problem that he picked up against Real Esteli last week. Porter has said that the injury is nothing too serious, but he is expected to miss out this weekend.
Columbus Crew possible starting lineup:
Room; Afful, Williams, Mensah, Valenzuela; Artur, Kitchen; Santos, Zelarayan, Diaz; Zardes
Philadelphia Union possible starting lineup:
Blake; Mbiazo, Glesnes, Elliott, Wagner; Martinez; Monteiro, Bedoya; Fontana; Santos, Przybylko
We say: Columbus Crew 1-1 Philadelphia Union
Both Columbus Crew and Philadelphia Union have high expectations to live up to this campaign following last season's successes, and a victory on Sunday would be a big statement to the rest of the league.
The visitors have had an extra day to prepare for this match, which could give them a slight edge, but we feel that an entertaining score draw will be played out in Ohio.