After the Union were dominated in Columbus on Saturday, this game flipped the script. Philadelphia came out the more aggressive side as the Black & Gold were content to sit back and counter.
Crew SC did have an early chance on a poor back pass by the Philly defense three minutes in, but midfielder Kekuta Manneh was unable to beat Union goalkeeper John McCarthy to the ball.
Despite giving up a number of shots, something Philadelphia did not produce on the weekend, the Union were unable to score in the early portions.
That all changed 20 minutes in. Defender Raymon Gaddis sent a cross that should have been dealt with by Alex Crognale. The rookie center back instead popped the ball up, creating an awkward clearance for Jonathan Mensah. CJ Sapong’s bicycle attempt found a wide open Ilsinho who finished on the half volley for a 1-0 advantage.
It might have been a sign that things were not meant to be six minutes later when the Black & Gold should have pulled level.
Manneh beat his man wide and curled his run into the penalty box. His right-footed shot was deflected to forward Ola Kamara, who hit the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.
In the 34th minute, Roland Alberg’s bending through ball beat Crognale to find Sapong running in on goal. the onrushing Mensah collided with the Philly attacker, taking him down just inside the penalty box. The Crew SC center back was shown a straight red card and dismissed from the match.
After a lengthy delay as Columbus argued the call and the Union discussed who should take the spot kick, Alberg stepped up but did not strike the ball well. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen was able to tip the ball off the crossbar to keep the deficit at one.
The Union had a couple of good chances to start the second half, but the Black & Gold began to show offensive life.
Both team struck the woodwork early in the second stanza, including another shot by Kamara off the crossbar, but it was in the 66th minute when Philadelphia hit pay dirt again.
Sapong, matched up with rookie defender Lalas Abubakar, headed a cross off the post. The rebound came right back to the striker, who tucked it home for a 2-0 advantage.
In the 76th minute, it was another Ghanian defender who was sent off. Abubakar was bumped hard on a challenge with Alejandro Bedoya. With the ball still in the air, the rookie went with his arm to the face of the U.S. midfielder and was shown a straight red.
Down to nine men, Columbus just tried to hold on and hoped to grab something. The opposite occurred.
The final strike came with 10 minutes to play. A cross into the penalty box from Ilsinho was headed down by Sapong and finished by Marcus Epps for his first career MLS goal.
Solid defense no more
After two straight shutouts with the three-man backline, Crew SC gave up a lot of chances and eventually it led to goals.
It’s too early to say if this formation was just a fluke these last two matches or if it can continue to be a success. The relatively early red card to Jonathan didn’t help things and made a quick change in formation. Expect head coach Gregg Berhalter to continue to go with three in the back, especially after his suspended players return.
It’s been a year of standout mistakes for Jonathan. The Designated Player was expected to come in and help improve this Columbus backline. Instead, he has been below average most of the season. Coming in off of his best game in a black and gold uniform, this performance was that much more disappointing.
As for Abubakar, he’s a feisty player who isn’t afraid to mix it up. He’s gotten into it with a few MLS players and tonight it went too far. Yes, he was frustrated, both by the play and the score, but he’s got to keep his head better.
What happened to the attack?
The last three-plus years under Berhalter, the Black & Gold were known as an attacking side that was full of goals. In games with three in the back, the offense has dried up.
Crew SC entered this game with back-to-back one-goal games, which is certainly uncharacteristic.
Berhalter has said the team is still creating chances, but not as many as it was before. If Kamara isn’t going to be more clinical in front of goal, the improve defense may not matter all that much.
Columbus finish off a busy week with a trip out west to take on Real Salt Lake.
RSL had a very rough start to the season, but have rebounded to some degree. The Black & Gold will obviously be without Jonathan and Abubakar, but will also likely have to rotate the squad after many of these players took part in two games in four days.
That match kicks off Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET.