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Union rout Columbus in drama-filled affair

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Three goals, two red cards, and one missed penalty made for an exciting Wednesday night.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Just four days after falling to them in Columbus, the Philadelphia Union dominated the Crew in Chester. Goals from Ilsinho, CJ Sapong, and Marcus Epps ensured that the Union took the second leg of the regular-season home-and-home against their conference rivals.

On any other night, the three goals would be the story, but a saved penalty in the 38th minute took on a life of its own. Moments prior to the spot kick, Crew center back Jonathan Mensah earned a straight red card for bringing down CJ Sapong as he bore down on net. What ensued was the second installment of the Roland Alberg Show.

Sapong, who entered the game a goal away from reaching the double-digit mark for the first time in his career, drew the penalty, and thus expected to take it. But Alberg stepped up to the spot, much to the chagrin of Sapong and just about everyone else. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is: Alberg did the same exact thing less than three weeks ago against Sporting Kansas City. The only difference between then and now? Alberg didn’t convert this time. Steffen tipped his effort onto the crossbar, further escalating a conflict that’s been visibly simmering for weeks. Alberg’s body language was noticeably worse than usual for the rest of the night, and his teammates didn’t embrace him when CJ Sapong finally did manage to break the ten-goal mark.

Fortunately for Alberg and the Union, they led prior to the botched penalty. Ilsinho got his team off the mark in the 20th minute, when he connected with an overhead pass from Sapong. Two horrendously misplayed clearances from Crew center backs Alex Crognale and Jonathan Mensah kept the play alive, allowing Sapong to get on his bike and find Ilsinho in space.

Sapong got himself on the scoresheet in the 66th. The forward followed up his own rebound after heading Giliano Wijnaldum’s cross onto the post, posterizing rookie Lalas Abubakar in the process. The young center back was sonned on both the initial aerial challenge and the subsequent opportunity, as he and his teammates failed to contain the forward all night long.

To cap off what was a terrible night for Columbus’s entire defensive unit, Abubakar saw red ten minutes later. After Ilsinho bodied the center back while contesting (in the loosest sense of the word) an aerial challenge, Abubakar came back for seconds, this time with his hands raised. Having given him a yellow card 40 minutes earlier, Ismail Elfath went straight to the pocket and ended Abubakar’s night early.

Marcus Epps added a third goal after the Union gained their two-man advantage. The winger scored from a few yards out after CJ Sapong nodded Ilsinho’s cross right into his path. Though Columbus was playing with a third as many center backs as they started with at that point, it was still a beautifully worked goal from the Union. All three players involved had spectacular nights, and each of their strengths were on show in the game’s final goal: Ilsinho’s chance creation, Sapong’s physicality, and Epps’s eye for goal.

The win couldn’t have come at a better time for the sputtering Union, who had lost two straight prior to Wednesday night. The win keeps them apace in the competitive Eastern Conference, where they sit five points back of sixth-place Columbus. With the exception of the Crew, all of the Union’s playoff rivals have either played fewer or an equal number of games. With a tough slate of games remaining, a loss here could have placed the Union directly behind the eight ball.

The Union will travel up to Foxboro to take on the New England Revolution next weekend. The Revs trail the Union by three points, but they do hold a game in hand.

Notes

  • Marcus Epps looked fantastic in his second start on the wing. The rookie recorded eight shots, as he delighted (and excelled) in cutting onto his right foot and taking on defenders. He’d probably consider himself unlucky to have only scored once. While Fafa Picault and Chris Pontius will likely retake their starting spots upon their return to the first team, Epps now presents a legitimate third option if either player falls injured or underperforms.
  • The Union back line stood strong throughout the match, shutting down the tricky trio of Ola Kamara, Kekuta Manneh, and Justin Meram. Oguchi Onyewu and Jack Elliott continue to be one of the most unlikely center-back pairings in MLS, but they get the job done.
  • CJ Sapong was a force on Wednesday, as he had a hand in all three goals and drew a penalty that should have led to a fourth.