Facing a team with nothing left to play for, the Philadelphia Union fell flat and lost their grip on first place in the Eastern Conference once and for all in a 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew.
Playing their third road game in eight days, the Union weathered the storm in the first half despite losing captain Alejandro Bedoya to a right quad strain but they never did find their way after an actual storm delayed the start of the second half.
While Friends played on PHL17 during the delay, New England Revolution scored a couple goals and held on to beat NYCFC 2-0 and the Montreal Impact tied Atlanta United 1-1 to open the door for the Union to set up a winner take all battle at Talen Energy Stadium next Sunday against NYCFC.
When the game at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus came back on, Union fans were wishing they could have just watched the end of the Friends episode instead. Haris Medunjanin was unable to find Jamiro Monteiro on a counter attack on one chance and Monteiro skied a dangerous cross in front of the goal that would have put the visitors in front.
Minutes later, the Crew made the Union pay on a blistering counter attack sprung by the pace of Harrison Afful and had the lead on the finish from Youness Mokhtar. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was able to get a hand to the shot but couldn’t keep it out.
Three minutes later the Crew doubled their lead doing something the Union still have not been able to do this season: scoring off a corner kick. Jack Elliott initially won the header off the kick but headed in straight up in the air and Blake punched the ball out to Pedro Santos, who ripped one that somehow made its way through traffic and into the back of the net.
Unlike in San Jose on Wednesday night, there was no VAR to swoop in and rescue the Union. They had an opportunity gift-wrapped to them by their conference rivals dropping points and they couldn’t capitalize in the kind of demoralizing loss that may be tough to come back from with only second place left to play for on Decision Day next Sunday.
For all the “this is a game Union teams of old would have lost” talk there’s been this year, Sunday night in Columbus was the exact kind of letdown Union fans have come to expect every September.
And yet somehow, the Union are still guaranteed a third place finish and a second home game if they can find a way to hold Atlanta United off for second place and win their first round playoff match. That’s progress for sure and there will be a time to look back on it and celebrate the accomplishments of the best regular season in Union history. It’s just too soon to go there now.