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Philadelphia Union suffer a late defeat against the Columbus Crew

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The 2-1 loss puts the Union’s Supporters’ Shield hopes on hold until next weekend

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Union felt like the team in control for the majority of Sunday afternoon’s match against the Columbus Crew. They easily outshot them and controlled the attack for significant portions of the match. But issues with finishing meant that the Union couldn’t translate their attacks into goals and a few defensive miscues opened the door for a Columbus victory.

There were several changes in the Philadelphia Union lineup for Sunday afternoon’s match, but none of them really qualified as surprises. Joe Bendik and Olivier Mbaizo entered the starting lineup due to the injuries to Andre Blake and Ray Gaddis while Jamiro Monteiro returned to the starting lineup after serving his yellow card suspension.

Columbus was able to field their strongest possible lineup for the match, with Darlington Nagbe, Gyasi Zardes, and Lucas Zelarayan all getting the start. Each player had missed various amounts of time recently as they battled injuries.

It became readily apparent that the Columbus weather was going to be an important factor during Sunday’s match. Flurries swirling on the field from the opening kickoff and the announcers reported wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour. The conditions made it so that long passes would be ineffective for most of the afternoon.

The teams spent a fair amount of the first half feeling each other out. The Union conceded possession to the Crew for most of the first ten minutes. The Union defense stayed tight and the Columbus attack couldn’t manage more than a few corners.

After this period the Union began to press forward more and used a lot of patient build up to get the ball into the final third. But despite getting the ball into a dangerous position multiple times, the Union struggled to put a good shot on goal.

Kacper Przybylko and Brenden Aaronson each had good attacking chances that just couldn’t find a final touch. And it was Mbazio who very nearly found the opening goal in the 28th minute but he was denied by a diving fingertip save from the Crew’s Eloy Room.

The Union would regret these missed opportunities as Columbus opened the scoring in the 37th minute off of a long shot from Artur. The Union had cleared the ball out of the box but Harrison Afful collected it and the defense failed to close down when he slipped it to Artur at the top of the box. He used this extra space to take a low, bouncing shot from distance that Bendik couldn’t get to.

The Union response after going down was a bit of a mixed bag. The offense pushed forward but the results were not as controlled as they were earlier in the match. Curtin seemed to pick up on this and implored the players to, “finish the half!” from the sidelines. It was just one of the many coaching suggestions that were crystal clear thanks to the lack of crowd and the positioning of the field mics.

Neither side made any major changes coming out of halftime, although the snow flurries called it a day. The Union stepped on the gas immediately and it paid off fast as Przybylko knocked a shot against the post in just the 48th minute. Jack Elliott also put one on frame in the 51st minute, but Room made the save.

The Union had another solid chance off of a free kick in the 54th minute. Jakob Glesnes lined up over the ball, but he instead tapped it to an onrushing Kai Wagner. But Wagner sent it just over the bar with his left foot.

All the pressure finally paid off in the 56th minute as Jonathan Mensah, who had been struggling on defense all day, clipped Sergio Santos’s heels as he was streaking for a ball in the box. Santos was in no position to score, but it was a clear foul in the box and was immediately whistled for a penalty kick. This time Monteiro assumed the PK duties and he slammed the ball to Room’s left to equalize.

The Union attack didn’t slow down after the equalizer as they pushed hard for the lead. Corner kicks in the 59th and 60th minute resulted in clear looks on goal but the Union couldn’t find the final touch.

After the initial attacking period, the match settled back down again as each side settled back down and focused on mot making any major mistakes.

There were also a few controversial moments as referee Allan Chapman was reluctant to blow his whistle even when the players and coaches were screaming for fouls. It wasn’t until the 71st minute that he produced his first yellow card for a foul on Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya nearly scored on the resulting free kick but his shot was headed away at the last moment.

Jim Curtin wanted to give his starting XI every opportunity to take the lead and he didn’t make the first substitution until the 71st minute when Cory Burke came on for Sergio Santos. Shortly after, Mbaizo had an extended injury review after a hit to the head. It looked like Gaddis could be coming on, but Mbazio was able to play on.

It was a team breakdown in the 84th minute that allowed the Crew to regain the lead. A Union turnover at the top of the Columbus box was sent to Luis Diaz open down the right side. Jack Elliot had to run out wide to defend him but couldn’t stop his cross into the box. Bendik wasn’t in position to collect the cross and Columbus sub Krisztian Nemeth slotted the ball home at the far post.

The Union were not content to accept defeat and they pushed hard to try and equalize again. Przybylko had a strong chance in the 89th minute off a beautiful cross from Wagner, but Room was there for another strong save.

The Union only had four minutes of added time to work with despite Mbaizo’s injury. The best chance came in the second minute of added time from Jack Elliott who made a Fontana-esque rocket shot from outside the box. But Room was the hero once again as he made a spectacular kick save to preserve the 2-1 scoreline.

EXTRA THOUGHTS:

  1. This result keeps the Union from securing the Supporters’ Shield today, but they could still do so during their final match of the year against the New England Revolution. What they will need to do during that match to win the shield will depend on the results of tonight’s Toronto and Seattle matches.
  2. The Union managed to outshoot the Crew 22-7 during the match (9-3 shots on target) but couldn’t find the winner. The final result really came down to the performance of the goalkeepers.
  3. The Union are at their best when they play with Andre Blake and Jose Martinez. El Brujo should be back soon, but the team needs to determine how to get back to their winning ways if Blake is unavailable for an extended period. Curtin gave his return timeframe as two to two and a half weeks during the postgame press conference.