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Union offense shut down as they fall 1-0 to the Columbus Crew

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Lucas Zelarayan’s second half goal was enough for the Union’s first regular season loss since opening day

Philadelphia Union v Columbus Crew SC Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Union knew before they made their trip to Ohio that they would need to play their best to get a result against a tough Columbus squad. While the Philly defense had a pretty good night overall, the Union couldn’t find the same offensive spark that helped them to a 4-1 victory over DC United last Saturday.

The biggest point of discussion before the match was the Union’s lineup choices. The defensive rotation continued with Mark McKenzie returning to the lineup in place of Jakob Glesnes. But the bigger shakeup was with the fullbacks. Kai Wagner was ruled out, but rather than replacing him with Ray Gaddis or Matt Real, Jim Curtin elected to start Olivier Mbazio at left back instead.

In his post match comments, Curtin said that one of the reasons this was done was so that Mbaizo could match up against Pedro Santos for Columbus.

There was no equivalent rotation in the Union midfield. Aaronson, Bedoya, Monteiro and Martinez all started their fourth match in two weeks.

Columbus didn’t elect to make any major changes on their side of the ball. The Crew’s starting XI was the same group from their 0-0 draw against FC Cincinnati last Saturday.

Both teams spent a good portion of the first half feeling each other out and probing for any potential weaknesses. Neither team made any major attacks and the only good chance early on was an Alejandro Bedoya shot from distance that forced the Crew’s Eloy Room to make a diving save.

Columbus really began controlling the ball for an extended period right around the 20th minute. This was especially concerning for the Union as Andre Blake had banged his back off of the goal post on a save right around the 18th minute. But the Union defense kept the Crew from getting any good balls to their main target (and birthday boy) Gyasi Zardes.

The Union attack did come to life later in the first half and the managed some good looks at goal off of corner kicks. But the Crew’s tough defense, and a bit of bad luck, kept Philly from putting the ball in the back of the net off of any of these opportunities.

The Crew regained the momentum late in the first half and Lucas Zelarayan nearly opened the scoring with an absolute rocket in the 39th minute. But Blake was in position to make the stop and a tough first half would finish scoreless.

Neither coach made any substitutions during the half and the early minutes of the second half felt like a continuation of the first. The Union had a promising breakaway early, but a Jonathan Mensah handball broke up Kacper Przybylko’s scoring chance.

The Union made some early mistakes, but they didn’t have to pay for them at first. Pedro Santos had a good look on goal that he sent just wide. Shortly after, Zardes nearly got on the end of a cross but Blake managed to just push it out of his way.

The third time ended up being the charm for the Crew as Zelarayan put away the opening goal in the 55th minute. The Union defense allowed him too much space at the top of the box and a bit of a deflection on his shot allowed the ball to curl just under the bar.

The Union had a little more than thirty minutes to work with if they didn’t want to suffer their first regular season defeat since the season opener. As a way to freshen up the midfield, Ilsinho was subbed in for Aaronson in the 61st minute along with Warren Creavalle coming on for Bedoya.

The first set of subs didn’t lead to any immediate change and the Crew retained a healthy portion of possession. Sergio Santos finally got a good look on goal in the 68th minute, but he just missed burying a close shot in the top right corner of the goal. Even worse, Przybylko appeared to be wide open at the far post.

The second set of Union subs came on in the 75th minute as Andrew Wooten replaced Santos and Matt Real came on for Mbaizo. This set of subs did seem to spark the Union attack as they finally managed to spend some time on the ball in the attacking third. But the Crew seemed prepared to concede the possession to the Union for a while and their defense held firm.

Time was not on the Union’s side as Columbus milked away the final minutes through taking slower set pieces. Jose Martinez would let one rip from distance in the 85th, but Room was easily able to collect it.

Much of Philly’s offensive opportunities ultimately came down the Union left as Real pushed as far forward as possible. But, his passes into the box couldn’t find any recipients.

Curtin made his fifth and final substitution by sending on Anthony Fontana for Martinez in the 88th minute. But with only a few minutes to play, he didn’t get a chance to make much of an impact.

Three minutes of stoppage didn’t give the Union much to work with, and they didn’t get to control the ball much during the final minutes. The Crew never seemed nervous or edgy, despite their one goal lead. As consistent as their defense has been in 2020, one goal was all they really needed.

Philly managed to win a corner in the final second of the match, but it was sent out by the Crew. The official felt there was enough time for another, but this was cleared out as well. Rather than allowing a third, the official blew the whistle to end the match.

EXTRA THOUGHTS:

  1. The Union’s defense still looked good and only allowing two goals in four games is still something to be proud of. It looks like the general idea of defensive rotation is working.
  2. However, the experiment with the fullbacks wasn’t a successful one. After this result, it really looks like either Kai Wagner or Matt Real should be starting at left back (assuming full health).
  3. Rotation has been helping the Union defense, so when’s that going to move into the midfield? Bedoya and Monteiro looked pretty gassed at different points tonight. Are they going to have to put in 90 more minutes on Sunday?