Columbus Crew SC proved able to capitalize on neither positive momentum from a cathartic Saturday road win nor homefield advantage Wednesday night, as the team fell 2-1 in an Eastern Conference match with the Philadelphia Union.
The pace of the match was frenetic from the initial whistle, and Columbus seemed intent on implementing long passes and throughballs to try keying its attack. The approach was visually entertaining for the first 30 minutes, but Philadelphia did a strong job of limiting Columbus' chances.
The most notable of those chances involved, unsurprisingly, the foremost players of the 4-2-3-1 formation. Striker Ola Kamara lacked the final touch on a couple of shots, which he sent sailing off target with his left foot in the 18th and 28th minutes, respectively. Right winger Ethan Finlay had an exciting stab in the 15th minute when he surged forward to head beautiful open-play cross, sent in by left wing counterpart Justin Meram, but Union keeper Andre Blake was there to save it.
Crew SC suffered its seventh defeat of the year when conceding first blood to its opponent with the loss. Fabian Herbers provided the goal in the 60th minute that broke a scoreless tie.
The German midfielder's unassisted strike ensured the physicality and efficiency with which Philadelphia was playing—particularly after the break—would show up on the box score. At halftime, the Union had doubled Columbus up on aerial duels won and had lost the ball only eight times, compared to Crew SC's dubious mark of 17.
Before Herbers scored, Philadelphia had suddenly taken on the role of aggressor during the several previous sequences. The best example of things markedly shifting the Union's way was the 57th minute attempt by captain Tranquillo Barnetta that bent just wide and alerted onlookers that something substantive was brewing for Philly.
On the Herbers goal, Crew SC left back Hector Jimenez was almost the hero in blocking the first attempt. The only problem for Columbus was that Herbers was able to get a second crack at the ball after the deflection, and he managed to scoot it past Steve Clark's gloved hands and inside the left post.
Second-half dramatics ensued as the Black & Gold fought to overcome interceptions and dispossessions to get back in the match. On the aftermath of a 73rd minute corner kick, forward Adam Jahn scrambled to control the ball in the six-yard box and managed to get it to trickle over the goal line. Upon instantaneous consideration, it looked as though Blake had prevented the ball from fully crossing into goal but an assistant referee signaled that it was indeed the Columbus equalizer.
The 74th minute saw Crew SC fall victim to a lack of defensive discipline after celebrating their strike, as Philadelphia was easily able to slice through into its final third with quick, accurate passing. Defender Keegan Rosenberry caught Columbus personnel out of assignment for the second and decision-clinching goal for the Union.
Crew SC was resolute to inject fresh legs, using all three substitutions at different positions to try regaining form during the final half-hour of play. Head coach Gregg Berhalter looked quite savvy for the Jahn substitution for Kamara after the Californian scored 13 minutes later. A speedy and enthusiastic Finlay was subbed off for Dilly Duka, who was a participant in some crucial threats inside the 18-yard box during second-half stoppage time. It was clearly time for Crew SC to panic and stanch the bleeding after the Rosenberry goal, though, as Corey Ashe came in for Hector Jimenez at his natural position of left back despite having recently missed action due to a nagging knee issue.
None of the reinforcements were able to help enough to get Columbus the draw that might have felt to players and fans like a victory, given the crushing nature of how quickly and easily Crew SC yielded the second Philadelphia goal.
On short rest once again, Columbus hosts Jahn's former team in the San Jose Earthquakes this Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium, with an opening kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.