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Crew SC grind out 1-0 win over the Union in midweek clash

The Black & Gold are now four matches unbeaten after a a three-game losing streak.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Berhalter discusses Columbus Crew SC’s 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union.

Posted by Massive Report on Wednesday, May 9, 2018

While Columbus Crew SC want to play attractive, attacking soccer, sometimes circumstances dictate winning in other ways. That’s what the Black & Gold did on Wednesday night, defeating the Philadelphia Union 1-0 following a tough match at the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, where Columbus played 75 minutes down a man after a Pedro Santos red card.

The first half felt like a carryover from the first meeting between these two teams, an uneventful 0-0 draw in Talen Energy Stadium back on March 17.

Union forward CJ Sapong had an early opportunity in the seventh minute. The striker found space for a run in between Columbus center backs Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar. His shot from a tight angle was easily collected by goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

Other than a flurry of corner kicks in the middle of the half for the home side, Crew SC struggled to generate quality chances for the majority of the first half. That changed in the 41st minute when Harrison Afful dribbled into the penalty box from the right side, cut back onto his weaker left foot and fired a rocket shot. The effort clanged off the far post.

After dominating the last 10 minutes or so of the first half, the Black & Gold came out looking to keep control and grab the lead. Crew SC did just that in the 53rd minute thanks to two mistakes from Union goalkeeper Andre Blake and an easy Gyasi Zardes finish.

A high cross from right back Harrison Afful forced Blake to come off his line in an effort to collect. He failed to do so, knocking the ball behind him. Columbus winger Cristian Martinez was the first player to the ball, sending in a first-time cross that Blake again misplayed. Zardes was standing on the back post for an easy tap in and 1-0 Crew SC lead.

Nine minutes later, the Black & Gold almost grabbed a second goal from an unlikely source. Defensive midfielder Wil Trapp — who has one career MLS goal — found space 25 yards out and fired a rocket that forced Blake into a diving save.

The best chance for some time for the Union in the second half came in the 80th minute when attacking midfielder Borek Dockal was given space at the top of the penalty box and hit a rocket. Fortunately for Crew SC, the effort was right at Steffen.

Five minutes after Dockal’s chance, second half substitute Federico Higuain nearly doubled the Black & Gold’s lead. Afful floated a cross into the penalty area, and the Columbus attacking midfielder flicked on an attempt with his head that went just over Blake’s goal.

Steffen came up big in the dying moments of the half, getting down low quickly to deny Sapong from close range. That save was enough to preserve the shutout and hold on for a 1-0 Crew SC win, giving the team its second four-match unbeaten run of the season.

Youth movement

The Black & Gold are already a young team, but on Wednesday, the group on the field was even younger. With a game last Saturday and another one upcoming on the weekend, Gregg Berhalter rotated his lineup, leaving some of the older players out. With Milton Valenzuela (19), Luis Argudo (22), Lalas Abubakar (23), Artur (22), Niko Hansen (23), Cristian Martinez (21) and Zeck Steffen (23) all in the starting lineup, Crew SC’s average age was 23.8, the lowest starting 11 in MLS this season.

Home shutout

For the first time in 2018, Crew SC kept a clean sheet at MAPFRE Stadium. It didn’t come without some nervy moments, especially Zack Steffen’s save on CJ Sapong’s close-range effort.

The previous three shutouts on the year all came on the road. The Black & Gold began the season with a 2-0 win at Toronto FC, before shutting out the Union in Chester, Pennsylvania in March and getting the 0-0 tie with the Sounders on Saturday.

What’s next?

It’s another quick turnaround for Columbus, who welcome the Chicago Fire to MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday. That game will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET.