Union match reports

Match report: Columbus Crew 0-0 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

It was the defending MLS Cup Champions versus the Supporters’ Shield winners.

In the marquee matchup of the opening weekend of the MLS season, Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew scraped and clawed to a 0-0 finish Sunday evening at Historic Crew Stadium. It was a fair, if uninspired, result for both sides, which favors the visitors in a battle that will rage in the MLS standings throught the year.

The game’s sparkle was somewhat clouded by each team’s success in the CONCACAF Champions League, with both clubs 5-0 aggregate victories in the opening round of the competition. The Union ousted traditional-but-not-so-recent Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa while the Crew dispatched Nicaragua’s Real Estelí.

Attesting to the adage of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Union manager Jim Curtin rolled out the same starting 11 for the third consecutive match to start the 2021 season.

After coasting to a 4-0 away win the their SCCL opening leg, Columbus coach Caleb Porter was able to rest his starters in their second leg Thursday night. Only four outfield players featured in both games, but Sunday’s lineup was closer to a full strength Crew lineup.

The two Eastern Conference powerhouses traded chances in the early moments of the match. The Crew launched the first attack in the opening minute, with winger Luis Díaz forcing a save from the defending MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Andre Blake. The better opportunity fell Philadelphia’s way in the 20th minute. Forward Kacper Przybylko found space for a free header on a corner, but goalkeeper Eloy Room made a diving save to maintain the level scoreline.

VAR returned for the first time in 2021, and it favored Philadelphia in the 37th minute. With a hopeful ball, Columbus’s Pedro Santos found a step on the Union’s back line. Center back Jakob Glesnes bowled over the Portugese winger. While initially ruled a penalty, the contact was correctly deemed to have occured outside the box after review. Saved by Blake, the resulting free kick was much less threatening than the alternative.

While Columbus had the better moments of the opening half, it was a competive first 45 minutes of action.

The second period of play began muddled, but with the Union holding the majority of possession. When Columbus were finally able to string together passes, they generated the first real chance of the stanza— a dangerous shot parried away by Blake.

Curtin made the game’s first alteration in the 62nd minute with Sergio Santos replacing Anthony Fontana at the top of the box. Two minutes later, the Union nearly opened the scoring. Captain Alejandro Bedoya curled his attempt to the far post, contorting his body awkwardly following a free kick. The shot caromed off the post and harmlessly away.

The match molted into a slog as play progressed, with more clattered bodies than quality moments of action. Overall, the game finished with 30 total fouls and six yellow cards.

Yet the home side nearly stole all three points in the 83rd minute. Blake was forced into a spectacular save, diving to his left to deny midfielder Artur’s head. With an open net, the rebound fell to forward Gyasi Zardes. With his last touch of the match, though, the U.S. international skied his header over the bar.

In their own attempt to poach the win, Bedoya unleashed a rocket from distance in the 88th minute. While struck cleanly, Room read it cleanly with a sprawling save to preserve the point for his side.

While neither team deserved all three points, the draw was earned by each side. Columbus had the better of play early with Philadelphia edging their quality as the match progressed.

For Philadelphia, it was their first positive result in their last three season openers.

The Union return to Subaru Park next Saturday against Inter Miami for their first home game of the 2021 MLS season.

Three Points
  • Local flavor. With JP Dellacamara and former Union captain Maurice Edu on the call, the national coverage sure felt like it was coming from an office in Chester.
  • A hopefully regular occurrence. It was the first ever matchup to start a season between the Cup champions and the Supporters’ Shield winners. As Edu noted, MLS should showcase this game in the future.
  • Escaping their House of Horrors. The Union picked up only their second result in their last seven matches in Columbus. Goodbye umm “Historic Crew Stadium.”

Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Anthony Fontana (Sergio Santos 62′), Kacper Przybylko
Subs: Matt Freese, Matt Real, Stuart Findlay, Nathan Harriel, Aurelien Collin, Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson

Columbus Crew

Eloy Room, Milton Valenzuela, Josh Williams, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful, Perry Kitchen, Arthur, Pedro Santos (Alexandru Matan 88′), Lucas Zelarayan, Luis Diaz (Derrick Etienne 65′), Gyasi Zardes (Bradley Wright-Phillips 84′)
Subs: Matt Lampson, Aboubacar Keita, Waylon Francis, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Isaiah Parente, Miguel Berry

Scoring Summary


Disciplinary Summary

PHI: Jakob Glesnes – 40′ (foul)
CLB: Luis Díaz — 56′ (foul)
PHI: Jamiro Monteiro — 61′ (foul)
CLB: Perry Kitchen — 64′ (foul)
PHI: Sergio Santos — 75′ (dissent)
PHI: Alejandro Bedoya — 89′ (foul)


  1. My review of that match will be three words long:

    I’ll take it.

  2. So it begins… A fair, earned result from a match that was hard on the eyes for much of the time..
    I get that this was not the match to sub in certain inexperienced players. Here’s to hoping to getting them match experience soon.

  3. Some of my thoughts on this match:

    1) Overall, there were far more positives than negatives from the Union this week. On short rest, they came into the house of the MLS Cup champs and dictated the style of play. Columbus had a hard time moving the ball around and the possession numbers reflected that. This is no small feat from the Union.

    2) This was not a 0-0 draw where the game lacked for offense. Worse goalkeepers or better luck with woodwork sees either team scoring.

    3) There are some concerns for me, namely, it felt like the Union struggled to pass out of the back under Crew pressure and I worry they’ll miss Mark McKenzie.

    4) Offensively, it still feels like the Union don’t have a solid plan for scoring outside of transition aside from whipping crosses into the box or getting the ball to Ilsinho (when he’s available).

    All in all, a point away to another one of the favorites for the shield and cup is nothing that the Union need to feel bad about. They’ll have a game that they’ll need all three points from soon against Miami. Hopefully we see the club earn them then.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      They do not. It is The Union Way across every level…. counter and cross.
      we are married to it.
      …had an epiphany while my son played with the Union Juniors… The Gatekeepers do not care about a player’s ability to retain possession as much as they care about a player’s ability to get the ball back …..he just lost.
      I’ll let that sink in.
      From top to bottom it is built on an ethos of winning the transitions.

      • I suspect that ethos produces results, particularly at the youth level.

      • It products results at the adult level too, like the Union? lol.
        Let’s not act like it’s some weirdo strategy or anything, it has success at various levels like Liverpool, Leipzig and Salzburg. Gladbach too I think.
        No it’s not Tika Taka but it’s also 2021, not 2011.

      • It produces results, but good teams also have ways to score when the opponent has packed in the defense. Clubs like Liverpool and Salzburg have a lot of capable attackers who can beat you on the dribble even when your defense is set, and to succeed in knockout tournaments, I think you really need some of that on your team,

        There’s a reason that the Crew were able to generate some really good chances despite the Union controlling the tempo of the game, and that was the creativity their attackers offered.

  4. A decent result.
    Wish we would’ve seen more out of Fontana.
    The Crew did a better job in the midfield than Saprissa did, resulting in more turnovers and interceptions against the Union.
    It was good to see Curtis put out his first choice lineup. Within the next month, though, he will need to be rotating players with MLS and CCL games coming more frequently.
    Matt Freese was the backup keeper, so he is currently above Bendik and Ranjitsingh on the depth chart.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I think Curtin’s first choice lineup would include Santos or Burke starting up top. This was his first choice given who was available.
      My guess is that if/when Union 2 start playing Freese will see time with them and Bendik will be the gameday backup (with Freese ready to come up when Blake is on national team duty or injured).

  5. Andy Muenz says:

    A good point on the road against the team who everyone is saying is the best in the league (although I still think there is a decent chance the Union will finish ahead of Columbus in the standings given Columbus’ poor showing on the road last season).
    As I see it 2 home wins against inferior opponents should get them into the Open Cup which should be their next goal.
    46 more games to win CCL, Open Cup, and MLS Cup.

    • As regards the Open Cup, only two Eastern Conference teams have three points from game one, Montreal and DC. Six Western Conference teams do, Seattle, LA FC, Sporting Kansas City, LA Galaxy, Houston, and Vancouver
      To qualify the Union will need six points from the next two games, since there could easily be three teams that earn nine, and then it will come down to the tiebreakers which were numerous, complex, and in my case not remembered.
      Seems to me making the Open Cup is a bit of a crap shoot, and a mixed blessing, given the lack of proven depth Dan Walsh emphasized in the preseason round table.
      That they advanced in CCL is wonderful. But it means the season starts with the killing schedule intensity of October but without end-of-season conditioning. Add the Open Cup to prolong the stretches of midweek games?
      Columbus was robustly physical in defending Martínez and Monteiro, with some effect. Other clubs will copy that, and as they become fitter will prolong it.
      The jump from the second team to the first team, so far, has seemed to take a full year of first team practices before the youngster has been an impact player in the midfield or the attack, or even an effective two-way cog in the machine.
      Jack McGlynn was clearly having to recalibrate his game upward against Saprissa,. He is the best of the rookie homegrown midfielders. And Saprissa does not rank with the top MLS sides right now.
      By the end of the season McGlynn, Sullivan, Aaronson, and Craig May be ready to help in the midfield. Right now I it will only be turner and de Vries. And I really don’t like how long it is taking de Vries to recover from his concussion. And there is no substitute for time with concussions.
      Columbus has the depth to try for the triple if CCL, the Open Cup and MLS. I don’t think the Union do.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I’m an optimist as far as the Union go 🙂
        And the good news is that of the 8 teams with 3 points this weekend, Montreal and Vancouver don’t count towards the 8 qualifiers for the Open Cup.

  6. el pachyderm says:

    Unfortunately I missed final 60 minutes of game. hard to be anything less than pleased about picking up a point on the road against the defending champs.
    That said, as Mike Servido argued on twitter… what good is a bench full of youth if you only make one sub …and is that going to be the way of it this year or can we expect to see these boys get valuable minutes. Hope so.
    Stay tuned.
    Well done.

    • I’m glad you brought up that Tweet, because quite honestly I thought it was way too soon to start the “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE YOUTH!?!?” hate train after one game.

      Firstly, the bench of youth existed because Ilsinho, Burke and De Vries were all injured. With them healthy, that would be your bench and I’d bet at least the first 2 would have come in. And maybe even De Vries too, since he had a full year of first team training and growth.

      Secondly, if you actually thought that a big boy game where two of the best teams in the league were trading (sloppy, pre season form) punches was a good game to give a bunch of scrawny 17 year olds a run out, then I don’t know what to tell you.

      Thirdly, I have no doubt as the season progresses we will see minutes given out to the young players and by the end of the year I wouldn’t be surprised if at least 1 of the 17 year olds is a usual sub option.

      But yeah, I personally think that is a ridiculous reactive hot take. Like, a year after our first trophy, after having major success with homegrowns, the pre-season after signing 5 new HGs, where you have multiple injuries impacting your starting XI and bench, in an away game with the best team in the league that is locked in a tight 0-0 draw, could you really not wait to go with the “lol some homegrowns we have” talking point? Like I don’t even get it. The clear goal with these kids is to get them first team training and sprinkle them in as the season goes. Any sort of “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE YOUTH!?!?” just seems like being negative just to be negative, IMO.

      And I say this as probably the biggest play your kids proponent on the site.

  7. US Open cup seems to be up in the air for this year as they announced on Friday that it will definitely not be taking place this Spring (maybe later in the year?). Only CCL and MLS regular season games to focus on for the Union but a host of call ups for international games for the individual players.

    Game looked pretty even but remember that Cbus were without some of their key players so not the same squad we may see when they come here for the other two matches this season. Glad the Union don’t have to go back to Columbus as they seem to have our number there.

    I didn’t see anybody who looked too gassed at the end despite the midweek game so not sure if Curtin was pushing the fitness as much as not wanting to throw a youngster into the mix.

    Also continue to be impressed with Flach, he is looking like he’s been here for longer than a few weeks and I was shocked to see how young he is. Not the best player on the team but holds his own pretty well. Nice pickup it looks like.

  8. Well, that was rugged. Jim said it best miced up……..” just waiting for a bad turn over by either team to find the back of the net”……or something along those lines. I am totally cool with grabbing a point and moving on from Columbus……

  9. OneManWolfpack says:

    3 games… 0 goals allowed. Two wins and a draw. Two road games, one home. All very fine with me to start the season

  10. Oh and one more thing….Elliott was damn lucky that wasn’t a PK for that clumsy challenge……objectively, I can’t see how that’s not a PK…..the Columbus player got his shoulder in and had the inside lane……that’s a pk. But hey, I guess when you are good you get those calls……..at least that’s what I will tell myself.

  11. Scott of Nazareth says:

    Am I the only one that sees a picture of El Brujo looking at porn?…
    I’ll see myself out…

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