Union match reports

Match report: Columbus Crew 1-0 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Philadelphia Union’s good run of play came to an end as they lost for the first time since the opening game of the season. In a battle for first place in MLS’s Eastern Conference, the Union fell 1-0 to Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium.

The winning side was guaranteed at least a share of first place in the conference, and the game did not disappoint. It did, however play out in expected fashion. Philadelphia couldn’t crack a defense that’s allowed just two goals so far this season. Columbus were equally frustrated going forward, but produced the game’s only goal off a wild deflection.

Center back Mark McKenzie resumed his place in the starting 11, and Raymon Gaddis replaced an injured Kai Wagner. Outside of those changes to the back line, Union head coach Jim Curtin made no alterations to his side which thrashed D.C. United 4-1 Saturday evening.

Conversely, Columbus’s Caleb Porter ran back the same starting lineup that followed up their first loss of the season with their second draw of the year— a goalless game against FC Cincinnati.

The tilt opened favoring fans of tactical play over those who prefer reckless, wide-open soccer. Each side managed just one shot on goal in the opening 20 minutes of action. On their second shot, the Union nearly opened the scoring in the 26th minute.

A mazy run through the Crew’s defense from midfielder Brenden Aaronson earned the Union their first corner of the match. After some in-the-box scrambling, McKenzie’s low shot beat goalkeeper Eloy Room. It didn’t beat the Crew’s star, Darlington Nagbe. The 30-year-old, whom Curtin called the U.S.’s best midfielder, was on the goal line to deny the Union.

Neither side could find the back of the net before referee Robert Sibiga signaled the close of the game’s opening frame. Despite a combined 17 shots, neither side could claim to be clinical in the final third. Regarding the home side, the Crew still haven’t conceded a first half goal.

The second period of play continued as the first, but a wicked deflection helped break the deadlock in the 55th minute.

Columbus’s record-breaking signing, No. 10 Lucas Zelarayán, took an ambitious shot from outside the box. Seemingly innocuous, the chance caromed off the back of McKenzie and by a helpless Andre Blake in net. It was the fourth goal of the year for the Argentinian, who was signed from Liga MX powerhouse Tigres for a reported $7 million fee.

Curtin responded with the first two changes of the match. Midfielders Ilsinho and Warren Creavalle replaced Aaronson and Union captain Alejandro Bedoya in the 62nd minute.

Seven minutes later the Union nearly equalized after absorbing sustained pressure from Columbus. Forward Sergio Santos skied a shot from a tight angle over the bar. It appeared his partner up front Kacper Przybylko was free for a tap in at the back post. It was the Brazilian’s last real moment of the match, getting replaced by Andrew Wooten in the 75th minute.

The Crew sat back with the lead, inviting Philadelphia to break down the league’s best defense.

They couldn’t.

Columbus saw out the match without really being threatened by a Union team pressing for the equalizer. With the condensed schedule, fatigue may play a big part in trailing teams chasing an equalizer.

Philadelphia will next face New York Red Bulls for the second time since the league’s restart this Sunday at Red Bull Arena.

Three points
  • Pour one out. For MAPFRE Stadium. It was likely the Union’s last game in the country’s first soccer specific stadium, built all the way back in 1999. Good thing given Philadelphia haven’t won there since 2016.
  • Shutout series. For the eight straight match played between the Union and Crew, at least one team kept a clean sheet.
  • Offensive woes. When Columbus sat back, the Union couldn’t create. The Union need to figure out how to produce in these situations.

Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake; Olivier Mbaizo (Matt Real 75′), Mark McKenzie, Jack Elliott, Raymon Gaddis; José Martinez (Anthony Fontana 88′), Jamiro Monteiro, Alejandro Bedoya (Warren Creavalle 62′), Brenden Aaronson (Ilsinho 62′); Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos (Andrew Wooten 75′)
Unused subs: Joe Bendik, Jakob Glesnes, Jack De Vries, Cole Turner

Columbus Crew

Eloy Room; Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Milton Valenzuela; Artur, Darlington Nagbe; Pedro Santos, Lucas Zelarayán (Fatai Alashe 90′), Youness Mokhtar (Derrick Etienne 70′); Gyasi Zardes (Fanendo Adi 79′)
Unused subs: Andrew Tarbell, Aboubacar Keita, Héctor Jiménez, Emmanuel Boateng, Sebastian Berhalter, Luis Diaz

Scoring summary
CLB: Lucas Zelarayán — 55′ (Pedro Santos, Artur)

Disciplinary summary
PHI: Jamiro Monteiro — 42′ (unsporting behavior)
CLB: Jonathan Mensah — 52′ (handball)
PHI: Alejandro Bedoya — 54′ (unsporting behavior)


  1. We need a better Plan B Jim.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Most teams don’t have a Plan B, and one could argue the Union’s Plan A actually worked pretty well (they won the xG by a decently wide margin, just had a lot of shots blocked and the Crew got lucky). That Ilsinho keeps receiving the ball at midfield is just wrong, he should be standing at the corner of the 18 while Kacper or someone else drops into that spots to link the back line to the midfield. He’s dangerous near gold and nearly useless in this squad far from it.

      • Wracked Opinion says:

        Discouraging that Ilsinho can consistently draw double teams: but the Union too often stand around watching him.

        This, instead of making effective, exploitative runs off of the circumstances he creates.

      • Wracked Opinion says:

        Ilsinho can / does draw double coverage, especially in dangerous areas.

        What is glaring is that too often the Union stand around watching: instead of making effective, exploitative runs created from this circumstance.

  2. Tough one tonight. The Crew are probably the best it gets in MLS defensively this season, so I don’t know if we should be hitting the panic buttons after tonight.
    The Union in my opinion are missing a spark in possession. Something that Ilsinho hasn’t been able to recreate this season. Maybe something to be addressed if McKenzie gets sold?

  3. Honestly, a decent performance in the loss. Pretty even game throughout against another top team in the East. Without the same-day travel and an unlucky defection/better finishing maybe a different result?
    Something interesting caught my eye – the Union started in their 4-4-2 diamond, then switched to a 4-2-3-1 when the Ilsinho/Creavalle sub happened but then it kind of looked like another switch to a 4-2-2-2 after the Wooten/Real sub. Creavalle/Martinez the defensive 2 with Ilsinho/Monteiro in front of them and Przybylko/Wooten at striker?

  4. To my eyes Portland is a better defense. Creavalle and brujo together didn’t work at all. Taking off aaronsen hurt the offense. Why not Fontana instead of creavalle? You’re losing anyway.

  5. I cut my finger tonight- puncture wound actually- on the top of an exaggeratedly jagged can of Mild Chipotle Ro-Tel – shoving a hand into the trash. Not quite picking the trash but tamping it down. Trying to be thoughtful about my waste.
    I had root canal two days ago. Ever have the bolt of electricity shoot through your mouth as the gutta percha filling puts pressure on the endontic ligament? It’s otherworldly and thank God a fleeting pain that resolves as quickly as it happens though as it’s happening in that split second of mind bending cringeworthy pain a truly unique experience without compare.
    That’s all for tonight. My finger bled a shit ton. The mouth still sure from surgery. Both those experiences were more pleasurable then watching that game tonight. I was bored senseless. Same issues. Same stalemate of off ball stillness. Maybe it’s me.
    Or … maybe not. I mean hey— Matuidi and Higuain are coming to Miami Inter. I’m sure they’ll bring something fun to watch.
    That’s all. No big deal really. First loss in awhile. I want more though.

  6. Just not the same offensive vibe when you come up against a well coached, organized, talented roster….I guess.

  7. Union had a tough time with possession. A LOT of medium ranged passes that were completely telegraphed and intercepted in midfield just completely killed the Union’s build up.
    On another night, the Union finish some of their chances and win.
    Winning on the road outside of DC and NY is looking extra tough this year given the travel restraints of flying and playing on the same day.
    Is anyone else getting totally sick of Tommy Smith? During the first half he was making comments about how Columbus was going to tire themselves out with all of their passing in possession. Huh? Last I checked it’s a lot more tiring to chase the ball than it is to possess it. Then he completely missed the offsides at midfield at the start of stoppage time and was looking for one downfield. He’s really getting into Bob Rigby territory and needs to be stuffed into an onion bag and sent away from Union games.

    • +1 on Tommy. Why cant Le Toux take his place ?

      • I really liked Bobby Warshaw’s commentary during the USOC last year. I’d like to see Tommy dumped for him.

    • Agreed. Having called UEFA Champions League games w/ Derrick Rae in the mid 2000’s, which was when I was first getting into soccer, I’ve always had a bit of soft spot for him. But as you mentioned, a lot of his commentary is weirdly inaccurate and frankly, kind of annoying.

    • Pretty much sick of Tommy since shortly after he got here. He offers nothing.

    • I liked Tommy his first season, so it’s no bias on my part when I say that the man has become awful and needs to be retired. Also, where the hell has JP been??

      • At an earlier game they mentioned his wife had tested positive for COVID-19. Hopefully they are just self quarantined and it is not anything worse.

    • I started sick of Tommy Smith….the only reason he has a job is because there are still elements within broadcasting who think we need to hear an Irish accent to follow a match………it’s the only reason Tommy boy has a job………

  8. They are a different side without Kai in the line up, I think other clubs know this. We had our chances in the first half, Columbus plays the Spanish method of defense…….if we have the ball….you can’t hurt us. I love the way they play for an MLS side…….having said that, we could have come away with points here. Bedoya and Monteiro looked a little tired last night. I don’t understand putting two 6’s in when you are down a goal…..with putting Craeville in the line up. Did anyone notice the ball Real swung in late……..and Kasper and Santos didn’t have the confidence in him that it would make it across…it was a great ball….but both of them looked up like “wow……I didn’t see that coming”. Telling……..

    • I was surprised that they played Mbaizo on the left when Ray has a lot more experience playing on his off side.

      • I actually thought Mbaizo played a couple nice balls in the first half. When the second half rolled around he wasn’t as adventurous.

      • I like Olivier, but Kai brings a different level of attacking pace out there…….I have no problem with Olivier at RB. It seems our 9’s have a different level of confidence with Kai as well. Keeping Ray on the right side makes sense to me……..Mbaizo has a better left side.

  9. We need a Leftist……Could not understand the Crevalle sub when we were down by a goal. Fontana and Real should come in sooner . We need some speed and creativity on the left side. Can we clone Fafa with Barnetta (circa 2010) or Mapp (circa 2010). Anyone out there in Bundesliga 2 that fits this description on the Market ???? after they set McKenzie free. Come on Ernst go through your under rated file again. Santos had Kasper wide open and took a difficult shot at nearly full speed. Yikes not a time to be selfish.

    ps anyone viewing the union on espn plus?. cant watch on full screen. help!

  10. Weird match. Attack couldn’t get coordinated. On the right Gaddis would end up in the middle, Bedoya out wide, but not wide enough for passes played through where everyone thought he should be. Santos ran all over the park and did little. (He really needed to square that ball to Przbylko in the second half. Best chance for a goal) Also Nagbe’s goal line block of McKenzie’s shot…. If luck had tipped a little bit, result would have been different. Union just could not unlock Columbus’s back line.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      Yeah Columbus seemed way too organized for an MLS defense, and we still came close a few times. That being said, we really need to learn to break down a bunker. If we ever figure out corners and bunkers, we’ll be almost unstoppable. But for now, teams have the blueprint on us.

    • Didn’t seem to me that Santos and Kaspar (-2 for spelling) were on the same page last night…I think the duo has a lot of potential, but they need to let the chemistry and communication develop more.
      That being said, not too disappointed with the U’s overall performance. The Crew are a tough team this year, and they were held to a fluky goal.
      Off to NJ.

  11. In some ways I feel this loss should have been expected. The Union have played mediocre since the bubble, struggling to score goals, except for the match against D.C.. They roll in mid week against the best defense in the league, and decide this is the match to rotate players. So yeah a loss is kind of the result I should have expected. Squad rotation needs to be better. Much, much better.

  12. Atomic Spartan says:

    Seems to me… Aaronson could pull the trigger quicker…Monteiro needs a rest as does Bedoya…With Burke coming back, biggest need is stronger midfield bench…what does Curtin not see in Fontana that is in full display when he has been given enough game time to show it?

  13. How was the Jonathan Mensah handball that would have sent Kasper to goal not considered a red?! Blatant attempt.

    • Agree 100%. It’s very frustrating to see the volume of poor MLS officiating decisions when there are asst refs and video review. Someone needs to say, “It looked intentional, sir. Why don’t you take another look.”

  14. Does anyone else feel that Miro is a little to timid..I feel like he shies away from contact, falls so easily trying to draw fouls that just aren’t there and his corner deliveries have no conviction..I understand he’s our best ball handler but I can’t help but think they need more out of him

    • No…not at all. He has an edge to his game. He will dive to draw fouls…..but who doesn’t. He had an assist last match off of a corner…….I think they drop near post often on purpose. We are not at training to see what their mindset on set pieces is……..

      • Idk, I like him, I think he’s a good player, I just think he can be better for them..he seems to turn it off too quickly when they play a defensive team and said team makes it hard on him, a bit of a front runner at times imo…and that assist was on a second opportunity it’s not like it was pinged off someone’s head …don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the outcome of that corner, but still

      • It was a standard near post flick to the back post…completely planned. Monteiro has to serve that ball looking for Ale’s flick of the head. That was from the training pitch.

    • Wracked Opinion says:


  15. While I feel like Curtin has been mostly doing a decent job, I think his subs killed us this game.
    The first two subs that killed us this game were from last game – not subbing Aaronson & Bedoya at halftime when up 3-0. If they had only played half that game, maybe they could have played this entire one. Taking them off this game killed our offense, but they were beat so there was no choice.
    The other sub that killed this game was Creavalle. El Brujo was doing fine solo. When you are already loosing, and have to break down a bunkered team, why do you put in a defensive sub?
    Which brings us to the last point, that Jim appears to still not have a plan to beat the bunker. If he cant figure it out maybe Tanner should, otherwise it is all we are going to see.

  16. Makes no sense to sub on Crevalle when you are closing 1- 0. What was Jim thinking??? He must really have no faith in Fontana. Fontana and. Real needed to come in. At the 60th minute. Not a winning move there Jim. Just a total loser

  17. biggest positive for me other than the move aaronson did in the box was Matt Real. He had no confidence in his start two games ago and looked like a different player last night. 3/3 in taking players on 1v1 by my count, which all lead to great opportunities. I don’t take any talk of selling aaronson this season seriously because there is no replacement. Monteiro would be the only playmaker and thats not enough. CANT WAIT to see burke play, i think he has more efficient touches than kascper and would allow us to rotate our fowards. need another midfielder though.

    • Oh – other than blake when he is on fire, Kai is our only player who I would argue deserves a best XI of the league start

  18. For everyone also saying the Union need to find a way to break down a club absorbing pressure hunkered in two banks of four……on their side of midfield……most clubs in the world have a hard time doing that. Any MLS side will have a problem with this. This is especially true for clubs like the Union who play for transitions……Red Bull footy, Pressing footy, Klopp footy. Notice LFC have a hard time doing this……ask any LFC supporter….they have problems with that. The only club off the top of my head that will make you pay for playing like that is Manchester City….they will wear you down and once one goes in…….four do. Barca used to be able to do it……until they sold their souls.

  19. This is — if it makes any sense — the least disappointed I have been with a loss in quite a while. Columbus is playing like a top squad right now, Nagbe is all over the pitch, ZZ Top is very threatening, their team D is very solid, we traveled there on game day… and still had more good chances than they did, and only got beat on a fluky goal. If you replayed that game 10 times we’d win 3 and draw 4. Just chalk it up & move on.

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