When it's not your day, it's not your day. On Wednesday night, it was not Columbus Crew SC's day. It took two deflected shots to beat Steve Clark and a mysterious red card to Columbus' Connor Casey, but in the end it was a 3-2 win for the Philadelphia Union.
Things didn't go great for the Black & Gold before the kickoff. With multiple players away on international duty or injured, head coach Gregg Berhalter turned to an improvised lineup and only five of the allotted seven players on the bench.
While it wasn't the finest start to the match with the Union controlling much of the attacking play early, it was Crew SC who got on the board first thanks to a fourth goal in four days from forward Ola Kamara.
After winger Ethan Finlay skinned outside back Fabinho, the American sent a cross into the 18-yard box. Although it was behind Kamara, the Norwegian was able to reach back and send a powerful effort past goalkeeper Matthew Jones for the 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.
It took only seven minutes for Philadelphia to formulate a response. Chris Pontius, who scored twice in the first meeting between these two clubs, collected the ball on the righthand side, dribbled into the middle, and fired a shot before center back Michael Parkhurst could close down the midfielder. The shot deflected off the head of defender Chad Barson and beat the diving Clark, who likely would have saved the initial attempt.
Both teams had opportunities to take the lead before the half. Union midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta found himself alone near the top of the 18-yard box and hit a chip shot that was saved by the fingertips of Clark in the 36th minute. Quickly at the other end Justin Meram chipped Kamara in behind the defense, but his flick around Jones went just wide of the far post.
It was another deflected effort that beat Clark again in the 57th minute. This time a cross came in to the top of the box and Vincent Nogueira had far too much time to collect and unload a powerful attempt to give Philly the 2-1 lead.
Columbus had the best chance to equalize in the 68th minute on the team's first corner of the match. Federico Higuain sent in a dangerous ball near post and Meram beat Jones to the floater, but his headed effort hit the post.
In the 77th minute, things went from bad to worse for the Black & Gold. Forward Connor Casey, who entered the match just two minutes prior, was shown a straight red card by referee Robert Sibiga. The replay showed very little contact, but the card was given and Crew SC were down to 10 men.
The Union took advantage in the 84th minute, all but guaranteeing the three points for the Eastern Conference leaders. Ilsinho led a fast break 2 vs. 2 and a good run in behind Parkhurst by Fabian Herbers made for an easy pass. Herbers cut back inside the box, sending Parkhurst tumbling and curled an effort into the far top corner.
Rookie midfielder Cristian Martinez made things interesting in second half stoppage time. The winger, making his Crew SC debut, got on the end of a Finlay cross and sent a powerful header by Jones to cut the deficit to one.
A comeback was not in the cards for the Black & Gold as two minutes later, the whistle blew for full time.
Potential more bad news could be on the way for Crew SC, who don't play another league match for 17 days due to the international break. Both Higuain and midfielder Mohammed Saeid left the match in the 74th minute after each player went to ground and walked off the field slowly.
The loss means the Black & Gold remain on 14 points and ninth place in the East. Columbus now sits two points out of the final playoff spot and drops to nine points back of the Union for the top spot heading into the break.