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What We Learned: Crew vs. Philadelphia Union

What were some takeaways from the Black & Gold’s first loss of the season?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC dropped the team’s first game of the 2019 season Saturday night, losing to Philadelphia Union 3-0 away from home. Even without some key starters, this was not expected from a side who was previously unbeaten through the first three games of the year.

Early on, it didn’t seem like the game would play out like it did. While Philadelphia was the dominant team early on, Columbus did have some decent opportunities. The Crew, however, recorded only one shot on goal all evening and is the first time they have been shutout all season.

Let’s take a look at some takeaways from the Black & Gold’s fourth game of the season.

Importance of the missing key players

Even with eight returning starters from last week’s home victory against FC Dallas, it was obvious just how crucial players like Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes are to head coach Caleb Porter’s game plan. The side just looked absolutely lost without the two players’ presence.

A seasoned veteran, Ricardo Clark is not expected to fill Trapp’s boots in a like-for-like manner. Without Trapp, Columbus lacked a deep-lying midfield playmaker and struggled to create in the center of the park. Striker Patrick Mullins is in a similar ballpark. He didn’t record a shot on goal all game, although he didn’t have many chances. Rookie JJ Williams looked better come his substitution early in the second half, but at that point the game had already been put to bed.

Clinical finishing is the biggest part of Zardes’ game. Unfortunately, it’s something the other strikers were unable to do. Generally, it’s going to be hard for this side to score goals without Zardes in the lineup.

Columbus will miss Steffen upon departure

No knock to debutant Joe Bendik, but Zack Steffen is a generational goalkeeper in Major League Soccer. A legitimate case that Steffen would have saved the first two Union goals could easily be made. However, the defense is just as much to blame for letting such sloppy chances result in goals.

It’s clear that Columbus will savor every minute that Steffen is in between the posts before his departure to Manchester City in July. Not traveling with the U.S. Men’s National Team should help Crew fans sleep at night knowing he’s going through the proper healing process from his minor knock.

What the Black & Gold are going to do when Steffen is gone is a question that will only continue to be asked for the next few months. Last night’s performance did nothing to help answer it.

Caleb Porter can only do so much

While we’ve already seen how much influence incumbent manager Caleb Porter can have on a game, it’s also up to the players to step up to the plate and do their part. Saturday night, that just wasn’t the case.

Defenders caught sleeping led to the opener for Philadelphia. A give away and poor defending from Harrison Afful allowed the second. A whiff of a clearance from Robinho was the clear fault for the closer. It’s easy to say that without these mistakes, Columbus could have made it a game, but the players didn’t stop them from happening.

It’s going to come down to doing the little things. That will go a long way in defining the team’s season. The players will have to come up in moments like these and play as a team in order to have continued success.

What were your takeaways from the match? Post your comments and thoughts in the comment section down below.