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Union open the season with a scoreless draw in Columbus

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Both goalkeepers shine as neither side is able to score in the historic clash between last season’s MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winners

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

Both the Philadelphia Union and the Columbus Crew were looking to use Sunday’s match to build on last season’s successes as well as their early successes in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League. But neither team was able to get into a grove during the match, and it ended all scoreless after a cagey, chippy ninety minutes.

There were no major surprises in the Union’s starting XI as they kept the same lineup from their CCL matches. One significant difference is that Paxten Aaronson made an appearance on the expanded bench.

The Crew had a strong team available overall, but they did have a couple of holes. Kevin Molino and Darlington Nagbe weren’t available Sunday night. And Aidan Morris was injured during their previous CCL match, so he will miss the rest of the season.

Columbus was on the gas from the start of the match and Andre Blake was forced to save a hard shot from Luis Diaz in the first thirty seconds. It would be several minutes before the Union were able to settle in and maintain some possession.

After this first burst, the earliest chances for both teams came from dead ball situations. Lucas Zelarayan blasted a dangerous free kick directly at Blake in the 7th minute. A short time later, the Union had a decent look off of their first corner kick. Jack Elliott was able to get his head to the ball, but he couldn’t direct it towards goal.

The Union continued to show some spark on their second corner of the game in the 19th minute. This time, Kacper Przybylko was the one who got an open header and he managed to get some power behind his effort on goal. But Eloy Room rose to the challenge and made a diving save.

Much of the rest of the first half could be described as intermittently either scrappy or sloppy. Both sides struggled to build their way towards effective chances and both defenses were quick to go in for tackles. The referee didn’t whistle for many fouls, and he clearly preferred to let both sides play at first.

The Union looked to be in trouble in the 38th minute when Jakob Glesnes crashed into Pedro Santos. The call on the field was a penalty, but the additional review showed that the contact originated just outside the box, so the penalty was modified into a free kick. Zelarayan stepped up for the free kick, but he sent it right at Blake.

It was the Crew who started to find their grove first and they found most of the dangerous touches late in the first half. Zelarayan hit the crossbar from distance in the 34th minute. Then, just before the half, he nearly slipped a perfect through ball to Diaz but Blake came way off his line to scoop it up.

The Union weren’t displaying the same killer instinct from midweek, and they were lucky to get into halftime at 0-0. Jim Curtin was interviewed halfway through the first half and his thoughts at that time held true. He wasn’t happy with the chances that Columbus had been given, and he emphasized that the players needed to do a better job finding Monteiro in behind the Columbus defense.

The teams came out of the locker room looking to break the deadlock quickly. Gyasi Zardes nearly deflected a shot around Blake in the 49th minute. Shortly after on the other side on the pitch, Leon Flach tested Room with a rocket from distance but he was able to knock it down and cover it up.

The Union had another solid set piece opportunity in the 57th minute following a Luis Diaz foul just outside the box. But, once again, the Union were able to get on the end of the kick but couldn’t direct the ball on frame.

The Crew seized the initiative again starting with a big shot by Diaz in the 59th minute that required another big save from Blake. Another shot in the 63rd minute was similarly gobbled up by Blake.

Right around this time, the game started to become more physical as well, with more fouls being called and three yellow cards being shown within ten minutes. The Crew’s Perry Kitchen in particular had issues with raising his elbows and making contact with several Union players.

The Union made their first and only change of the night in the 62nd minute by bringing in Sergio Santos to replace Anthony Fontana, who wasn’t able to make much of an impact at striker.

The Union offense began to spark after Santos came on. Alejandro Bedoya sent a shot off the post in the 64th minute. The next opportunity came in the 72nd minute as Monteiro lashed a ball into the box that was spilled by Room, but the Crew were able to clear it away.

With less than ten minutes to play neither team showed any sign of weakening. Glesnes made an acrobatic scissor kick just to block a pass into the box. Right after that, Blake made a diving save to deny Artur from close range.

The Union did their best to try and find a winner in the final minutes of the match. Bedoya lashed a shot from distance that Room was able to push away for a corner in the 89th minute. Santos had the next best chance working down the right side in added time, but Josh Williams slid in to block it away. He had one last chance a short time later, but Room made one last kick save to preserve the draw.

EXTRA THOUGHTS:

  1. The crowd in Columbus began to heartily boo Jamiro Monteiro during the second half. It seemed that the booing made him play better, so hopefully more fans choose to take that route.
  2. This feels like a let down after the two big wins in the Champions League, but the one point the Union earned from this match already surpasses the number of points they got in Columbus all of last season.
  3. Jim Curtin is still slow to go to the bench early in the season. Sergio Santos was the only substitute used by the Union.