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Six Thought Box: A win by any means

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It was destined to be scrappy, but Crew SC came out on top.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

After the long Gold Cup break, Columbus Crew SC recorded a 1-0 shutout win against the visiting Philadelphia Union to climb back into the sixth and final playoff spot in MLS’s Eastern Conference.

Here are my six thoughts on the match.

Midsummer Grind

After a day of storms and Ohio heat, this game promised to be a struggle. The tempo was sluggish as both teams were bogged down in the midfield. The visiting Union by choice and Crew SC by the lack of playmakers.

The team obviously missed Federico Higuain and Justin Meram was rarely able to get the ball in a position to make a final pass. With the visitors hoping to steal a point or three, the best Columbus chances came from direct balls that caught the Union in transition.

Better to be lucky

As mentioned above, Meram was not able to consistently get into dangerous positions. Crew SC did have 11 shots, six on target, but the packed Union defense was always going to be tough to break down.

The visitors blocked two shots and rarely let Columbus have uncontested attempts. With the offense struggling, it was going to take an odd bounce to get past a committed Union defense that was clear in it’s objectives. A deflected goal off that packed defense fit perfectly.

Nice and Easy Shutout

There will be more words written about Crew SC’s back three, but it certainly made things nice and easy for goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

He recorded zero saves, but that was only because the Union fired off three shots and none of them were on target. The closest was from just inside 18 yards, and it was blocked. When a goalkeeper has that little to do, it’s the defense that should earn the plaudits.

Rookies to the rescue

Lalas Abubakar and Alex Crognale starred in the team’s shutout for the second straight game.

Crognale is strong in the air and chose well when to step up and when to cover. The rest of the backline could be assured that help was behind them. Abubakar was calm beyond his second MLS appearance, as he had a masterclass performance and he cleaned up everything on the left side.

The Union certainly appeared to test the rookie and sent much of their attack through Marcus Epps, but Abubakar limited him to two long-range shots.

Three is a Magic Number

Crew SC’s defensive woes are well known, but the three-man backline has now pitched two consecutive shutouts. It’s true that Minnesota United and Philadelphia were struggling for offensive weapons and weren’t the sternest test. However, the defense limited both teams to practically no real chances.

As mentioned above, Crognale is stalwart in the middle, but it also gives Designated Player Jonathan Mensah the perfect platform for his playing style. Jonathan is a rangy player and will often step up to deal with a threat early. This is high risk in a defensive style that leaves considerable space.

Now with support around him, he can be the destroyer he is by nature. Ideally, Jonathan wouldn’t be limited, but there is a spark that this could turn his struggling 2017 around.

The mentality of a winner

Crew SC has had a fragility to them this season. Mentally, the team has struggled when the going got tough. Heads dropped and results slipped. The Philadelphia game could have turned out the same way.

The Union were steadfast in trying to kill off the game from the opening minute. Still, the Black & Gold continued to poke and prod towards a goal. When attacks led by Ola Kamara, Kekuta Manneh, or Meram crashed upon the unshakable Union defense, Columbus continued.

The team regrouped at halftime and continued to attack, finally breaking through when Meram just “tried something.”

Once in possession of the lead, Crew SC did not relent. Philadelphia did fire off two shots after falling behind, but they were low quality.

The Black & Gold saw out a professional win rather than fumbling. It’s an attitude that will serve them well as they face a busy week ahead and a fight to get into the playoffs.