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Game Grades: Crew v. Philadelphia Union

How the Black & Gold players performed in a devastating loss on the road.

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

Needing a result in order to keep any realistic chances of making the MLS Cup playoffs, the Columbus Crew went on the road to the Philadelphia Union and returned with a painful 3-0 defeat. The Black & Gold came out poorly and never matched the intensity from the Union in the match, giving up three disappointing goals. From the formation to the uninspired formations, Columbus was second best all over the field on the day.

Let’s take a look at how the players performed in another road defeat.


Evan Bush (4) – It was a rare poor showing from the team’s backup goalkeeper. Bush got beaten on a 30-yard free kick where he was wrong footed and screened by the two-man wall. He also gave up a soft finish on the third goal.

Steven Moreira (5) – The Frenchman played solid, if not exceptional, defense. But with the Crew playing a 3-4-2-1, the wingbacks need to push forward and he struggled to make an impact on the game going forward. The Crew attack suffered without consistent impact from wide right.

Jonathan Mensah (5.5) – The most solid performance on the backline, Jonathan won his headers and covered space well as usual. He also understood the responsibilities of the back three better than his partners and Moreira looked better for it. Still, the backline was pulled apart repeatedly, especially in transition and the captain played a role in the defensive collapse.

Josh Williams (5) – Williams struggled to cover the spaces for his defensive partners and more notably his issues extended to winning the ball in the heart of the defense. Of his nine headers, he lost six. He also won just 38 perfent of his duels. It was a performance that left the heart of the Crew defense soft.

Aboubacar Keita (5) – Unlike Wednesday, the left center backs had more responsibilities in this game. With the wingbacks expected to push forward, Keita needed to cover the space behind Valenzuela but struggled to do so.

Milton Valenzuela (4.5) - Strangely, Valenzuela struggled mightily with the speed of the game against Philadelphia. He looked to push forward in support of the attack but was often caught upfield and the Union found plenty of space behind him.

Marlon Hairston (5.5) - A valiant performance despite the numbers disadvantage came from Hairston. While the Crew often was overrun in midfield, Hairston managed to cover quite a bit of ground and was close to solid on the defensive end. His impact was very limited going forward against the 4-4-2 diamond midfield that left the center channels crowded.

Darlington Nagbe (5) – Unlike Cruz Azul, Philadelphia left very little space centrally for Nagbe to progress the ball. Going against the diamond midfield requires movement wide. Nagbe often drifted into the right channel to link up with Moreira and Santos, but to little effect as the Black & Gold never could create a numbers advantage. Nagbe was left to do too much with not enough support.

Pedro Santos (5) - A small “bright” spot in the Columbus lineup was Santos, who was better situated to play direct and interplay with Nagbe and Moreira on the right side of the field. Unfortunately for the Crew, not much came out of the sporadic possession. His penalty kick could have been taken better and a different result would have put the Black & Gold back into the game in the second half.

Lucas Zelarayan (4.5) – It was a famine game from the Crew’s playmaker. Zelarayan was disconnected in the left channel as Hairston wasn't close enough to support and Valenzuela often got pinned back. He then chose to try and dribble his way out of the problem and ended up losing the ball nearly every time. As has been the case too often this season, Zealarayan was a black hole in the offense.

Gyasi Zardes (5.5) - Starved for service, Zardes only had 32 touches all game. He rarely connected with the attacking midfielders behind him and never found the flow of the game in the 3-4-2-1. He was a little more involved when Columbus went up a man and back in the 4-2-3-1, but by then, it was too late to really make a game-turning difference.


Derrick Etienne (4.5) – A low-impact sub appearance from the winger as Etienne came off the bench. The Black & Gold looked out of ideas before his arrival in the 53rd minute and his insertion didn’t change the outlook of the game.

Luis Diaz (5) – It was a performance much like Etienne’s, but Diaz was able to draw a second yellow on the Union’s Kai Wagner with his direct running. It was his biggest impact on the game as his late cross to Zardes for a goal was called back for offside.

Liam Fraser (5.5) - This was not the best game for Fraser to make an impact. He provided defensive mettle and ball circulation, but his biggest value is in his sweeping passes that can shift the point of the attack. With Philadelphia up by two goals, the home team played deeper and never opened up to make this effective.

Saad Abdul-Salam (5.5) - Abdul-Salam didn’t provide any game-changing energy, but it was clear that Moreira was tiring in just his second game since the end of the European season and thus needed someone to replace him.

Miguel Berry (NR) - With less than 10 minutes to make an impact, Berry only touched the ball once and misfired on his only pass.

Head coach

Caleb Porter (4) – With the midweek game and injuries, Porter’s hands were tied somewhat, but the 3-4-2-1 turned out to be the wrong setup against the Union. The Crew never had enough width from the fullbacks. The midfield was too often overloaded as the Philadelphia diamond setup kept a numbers advantage on the ball and in transition. By the time he changed the setup, the game slipped away and maybe the team’s postseason hopes as well.