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What We Learned: Crew vs. Philadelphia Union

Our takeaways from the Crew’s disappointing 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew lost Sunday to the Philadelphia Union 3-0 at Subaru Park on Sunday afternoon. The defeat puts a massive dent in the Black & Gold’s MLS Cup playoff aspirations with just six games to go this season. The game had very few positive moments for the Crew just four days after winning the Campeones Cup over Cruz Azul.

Sunday’s loss in Chester showed the consistency of Columbus’ inconsistencies in form this year. Here are our takeaways from the loss to the Union.

Road mentality isn’t strong

Following the loss, Crew center back Josh Williams spoke to the media candidly about what he called an “embarrassing” performance. He also discussed the team’s mentality when they travel on the road.

“We’ve just gotta be tougher on the road,” said Williams. “I’m sick of how we come out and perform on the road. I don’t understand our mentality when we go on the road. It’s like we expect teams to roll over or we think they should respect us a lot more than they do. It was like that last year and it’s like that this year.”

The Crew’s road record in 2021 is 2-9-4. If you combine this season’s road record with last season’s, the Black & Gold have two wins, 14 losses, and nine draws away from historic Crew Stadium or Field. The two road wins this season were at New York City FC in May and at Atlanta United in July with the former being a rescue win from Lucas Zelarayan’s two late free kicks in an otherwise disappointing performance.

We don’t have the answers as to why Columbus’ road performances aren’t better but it’s interesting that the Crew’s road struggles this season aren’t unique to the rest of the league. Eleven teams in MLS have two road wins or fewer in 2021 and that includes three clubs currently in playoff position. What emphasizes the Black & Gold’s consistent poor road form is the fact that along with the Chicago Fire, they have won just two away games dating back to last season.

Columbus’ road tactics and performances have been subpar since the MLS restart in 2020. To make the MLS Cup playoffs, the team will need to win at least one of its last two away games against Nashville SC or D.C. United.

Offensive urgency is inconsistent

The Crew’s offense was shut out for the 11th time this season with three of those coming against the Union. The Black & Gold’s attack on the road is similarly lackluster with only nine of its 32 goals scored away from home. The poor road form comes from, at least in part, the team’s offensive urgency being inconsistent.

Sunday’s match saw once again a reliance on crosses from the outside backs and wingers that weren’t able to threaten for good goalscoring chances. On multiple occasions as well in the first 45 minutes, the Crew was dispossessed and missed passes. The offense only began to push forward with more urgency once Philadelphia went up 2-0 and down a man.

The Columbus attack this season seems to show creative, attacking urgency either when losing or up 1-0. What Black & Gold did Wednesday against Cruz Azul with quick counter attacking transitions was exactly the kind of offense head coach Caleb Porter wants to see when the offense isn’t flowing. It was puzzling that didn’t happen earlier against the Union.

The Crew can’t afford another loss

The loss to Philadelphia significantly lowers Columbus’ MLS Cup playoff chances. With six games to go, the Black & Gold now sit six points back of seventh place with CF Montreal holding that coveted position ahead of multiple contenders. The Crew’s chances still exist but the only way it seems Columbus makes the MLS Cup playoffs is by winning out.

The Crew’s maximum number of points possible now stands at 52 if the team wins the rest of its games. With the current standings, that would be enough to take second place but the Eastern Conference is all playing each other for the rest of the campaign. The simplest way to think about it is needing to recover six points to get even with Montreal. Even then, the likes of the New York Red Bulls and Inter Miami have games in hand with wins putting them above the Crew.

The scenarios to make the playoffs for Columbus now consist of winning the rest of the team’s games and rooting for some chaos. The key teams that need to lose are Montreal, the Red Bulls, Miami, Atlanta and NYCFC. The picture will get clearer in two weeks' time before the Black & Gold’s huge game against Inter Miami.