Every match is another final moment in the MLS life of historic Crew Stadium. In December, it played host to its final postseason match, in the form of a Columbus Crew 3-0 victory to win the MLS Cup. Sunday was the last regular season opener the stadium will host, and even though it ended in a 0-0 draw against the Philadelphia Union, there was a lot of excitement for the home crowd.
The game began with a ceremony to commemorate the franchise’s second MLS Cup. Prior to the match, the families of team owners Dee Haslem and Dr. Pete Edwards were joined by past Crew MLS Cup champions from 2008, Frankie Hejduk and Duncan Oughton, in the unveiling of the championship commemorating shield. It takes its place alongside the five other trophies on the Columbus Circle of Honor.
Taking over the Nordecke was a tifo letting the limited capacity sellout of 5,180 and a national television audience that historic Crew Stadium is the “Forever Home of Champions.”
The match kicked off with a first-minute chance by winger Luis Diaz that went just wide, a goal that would have made the stadium even louder.
Within the first six minutes, Philadelphia committed two fouls in dangerous areas for Columbus. On the second, midfielder star Lucas Zelarayan took an attempt at goal, causing a diving Andre Blake to keep the match deadlocked. The Union began the game looking disheveled and unable to break through the Black & Gold.
Both Philadelphia and the Crew had their chances in the first 20 minutes. In the 19th, the Union had the best opportunity of the half when left winger Kacper Przybylko was left unmarked in the penalty area. He struck a strong header that goalkeeper Eloy Room deflected away.
In the 25th minute, Diaz had another chance. This time, his interception led to a break at goal. The Philadelphia defense and the Costa Rican collided, but the referee and a Video Assistant Review check ruled no penalty.
For much of the first half, Columbus stayed composed on defense. Philadelphia had a handful of moments with offensive pressure that the Crew turned into counter attack opportunities, a big one coming in the 37th minute. Fullback Milton Valenzuela received a pass that switched the field of play. A nice one-touch pass to midfielder Pedro Santos led to Union defender Jakob Glesnes knocking Santos over just outside of the box. Initially ruled a penalty kick but a VAR review turned the foul into a free kick right outside of the 18-yard-box. It didn’t turn into a goal and the match went into halftime at 0-0.
Columbus came out in the second half more aggressive. Almost too aggressive. The 56th minute found Diaz in the referee’s book with a yellow card for an accumulation of rough tackles. Philadelphia joined Diaz, in the 61stminute, when attacking midfielder Jamiro Monteiro hit midfielder Perry Kitchen with a late boot, which almost turned into much more if not for teammates holding Kitchen back. Just two minutes later, Kitchen earned a yellow of his own for a foul in the Union’s offensive half.
Goalkeepers for both sides had a night of saves. Blake kept Philadelphia in the match. Second half shots by Diaz and Santos all challenged the keeper, but not enough to break the stalemate. The best save of the night coming in the 83rd minute, when a free kick, five yards outside of the penalty box forced Blake into a diving save off an attempt by Artur. Zardes squared up the save’s rebound but headed it over the bar.
The final 10 minutes didn’t offer anything new for either side. While the Black & Gold won both matches against the Union in 2020, they start their 2021 campaign with one point for the draw.
A Columbus celebration
Before the regular season officially kicked off, and the Black & Gold got back level with everyone else in the hunt for the MLS Cup, Columbus celebrated past accomplishments. While the Crew had supporters in the stands throughout parts of the phased restarts of 2020, the team didn’t have as many as on Sunday evening since the March 1, 2020, the regular season home opener against New York City FC. The sellout crowd’s energy seemed to propel the Crew to a fast start on the field. It didn’t turn into a goal but helped give the match a bit of excitement to start it off.
Finishing early season chances
Credit is due for Room and Blake for their stops throughout the night, but no chances looked particularly difficult to stop. Columbus looked more dangerous on direct moves through the Philadelphia defense. Crossing into the box didn’t lead to any goal scoring opportunities. On the offensive end for the Crew, two players made their Black & Gold MLS debuts. Veteran MLS forward Bradley Wright-Phillips came on in the 84th minute and Alexandru Matan in the 88th.
A long season ahead
With only one match of 34 complete, there’s still plenty of time to work through the kinks. Fortunately, for the Crew, the team’s defensive strength of 2020 is still strong after the offseason. To that end, Columbus kept their composure. Even when Philadelphia put passes and crosses into the box, Columbus defenders didn’t aimlessly clear for clearance's sake. They kept possession and kept the Union from many repeat chances of their own.
The Black & Gold’s next match is back in the CONCACAF Champions League when they welcome Monterrey of Liga MX to historic Crew Stadium on Wednesday, April 28 for the first leg. The Black & Gold’s next MLS match is against CF Montreal on May 1.