After scoring against Columbus twice in Saturday's match at MAPFRE Stadium, midfielder Chris Pontius departed play in the 85th minute when the Philadelphia Union used its final substitution. Philly had a seemingly comfortable 2-0 lead against a Columbus Crew SC squad fighting for some semblance of flourish in its offensive third.
When Kei Kamara gashed through the box for a headed goal in the 87th to halve the visitors' lead, though, Crew SC had all the momentum. Cedrick Mabwati had been initally slow to inject himself into the transition looks Columbus got at first in his first 20 minutes as a sub for Hector Jimenez, but suddenly looked unstoppable along the left flank with deft footwork and clear vision for Andre Blake's net. Possession was being fought for and largely sustained, and Crew SC had finally figured out how to play efficient soccer.
But the Pontius brace proved too much for Columbus to need to overcome, and the comeback attempt fizzled after four minutes of stoppage time were whistled dead.
A week after an embarrassing concession of a direct free kick Diego Valeri goal at Portland to go down 1-0, Columbus failed to close out a strong first half against the Union when Wil Trapp sent a Philly set piece laterally inward for Pontius to dart forth and tap in for a score.
And just as Fanendo Adi's goal in Oregon caught Crew SC out of shape defensively, so too did the Union's second score Saturday night. A strong Michael Parkhurst challenge spurted out to a freewheeling Pontius and the job of left flank cleanup duty was made to look easy as he snuck another past Steve Clark.
Columbus commanded nearly 60 percent of possession at the half and also led in nearly every statistical metric, including corners taken, passing accuracy and aerial battles won. But none of that was enough to pierce Philadelphia's defense and lead where it counted.
Federico Higuain was left to do much of the heavy lifting in the midfield later in the second half, as Tony Tchani and Trapp both seemed unable to spark a successful campaign anchoring Berhalter's 4-2-3-1. The Union defense really clamped down on the duo. Finlay was subbed off in the 73rd, a testament to the struggles he was having in efforts to key Columbus' attack. His replacement, Mohamed Saeid, was the man whose corner kick turned into the assist to Kamara's goal, which could be interpreted as a sage coaching move that yielded prompt results when Finlay wasn't producing.
Harrison Afful was another bright spot for Crew SC, tallying more than 70 touches and launching two impressive attempts on goal from his position as a forward-roaming outside back.
It was a familiar script for a Columbus loss: plenty of possession and passing, yet ultimately lacking that cutting edge. There was even the late push to salvage the game. Crew SC falls to 0-2-0 on the season and will travel to Toyota Park to take on the Chicago Fire next Saturday.