The 2021 Major League Soccer season started for the Columbus Crew with a 0-0 draw at home against the Philadelphia Union on Sunday. The match saw only a handful of good scoring chances and a whole lot of good defending and goalkeeping on both sides.
While a point isn’t how Columbus wanted to start the season, it was ultimately a fair result. The Crew players will have time to evaluate Sunday’s performance with a full nine days before its next game against Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
Here is how the Black & Gold players performed to begin their MLS Cup title defense.
Eloy Room (8.5) - You can single out two players from this game as men of the match candidates and they are the goalkeepers. While Andre Blake made six saves and was the best Union player on the day, Room was the best Crew player. The Curacao international made five saves with each one stopping a real goal-scoring chance for Philly. It keeps Room’s record in 2021 at zero goals conceded in three games and extends the Crew’s clean sheet streak to six games dating back to last season.
Harrison Afful (6.5) - It was a fine day for the Crew’s first-choice right back who had less action on his side of the field. Afful had just one interception and clearance in the game but his performance suffered from having the worst passing accuracy out of the defenders at 68 percent.
Jonathan Mensah (7.5) (c) - The Columbus captain made his best plays in the first half, winning essentially every ball in the air from a Union cross or goal kick to win possession quickly for Columbus. Mensah did his usual work positioning himself in the right place at the right time all game and consistently getting the ball out of his own half. He led the team with seven clearances in a game where Philadelphia’s forwards pressed slow down the play out the back.
Josh Williams (7) - The birthday boy and Crew fan-favorite walked away with a solid performance at center back. Williams got in some important tackles and was able to accurately pass the ball to the flanks and his midfield duo in front of him with 75 percent accuracy. Williams also made some big tackles on Union attackers that were timed excellently. Like each of his fellow defenders, Williams had discipline and committed just one foul.
Milton Valenzuela (7) - Valenzuela had some great plays in Sunday’s match. A pass accuracy above 80 percent to go along with a five-for-eight clip on his long balls helped transition the Crew from defense to attack quickly a handful of times. The only gripe with the Argentine’s performance was his first half dribbling deep in his own half, allowing the Union attackers to press him and having a few clearances go straight to a blue shirt.
Perry Kitchen (7.5) - It was a Black & Gold MLS debut that showed Crew fans how good of a signing Kitchen was to their team. Despite a yellow card, Kitchen was consistent defensively, making smart tackles and showing his good balance and ball control in replacement of Darlington Nagbe. He led the team in pass accuracy at 86 percent. The MLS veteran was incredibly communicative for the 90 minutes always talking to the official and communicating well with the defenders. Kitchen has emerged early as one of the leaders of this team.
Artur (7) - The Brazilian had a typical game with good passing, getting some tackles in while he drops deep between the center backs and joining the attack on occasion. Artur didn’t stand out as much as Kitchen in the midfield but that is a testament to Kitchen’s performance but also the role Artur plays in providing a lot to the team while being undetected.
Luis Diaz (7) - Diaz was incredibly active in the attack for the Crew as he continues to grow his game in MLS. The Costa Rican was all over the right side of the pitch and was the best offensive spark for Columbus in the 64 minutes he played. He was able to get shots and crosses and defended well when he needed to. He likely was subbed off because he has logged the most minutes of any Crew outfield player to start the 2021 campaign.
Lucas Zelarayan (6) - Zelarayan had maybe two or three moments where he showed off his brilliant play but outside of that, the Union did well to neutralize him by keeping a defender tight on him as soon as he received the ball. The Crew’s No. 10 was able to get a good shot off that hit the corner of the bar but did not capitalize on the three big free kicks he had in the match with each one going right to Blake.
Pedro Santos (6.5) - Santos had plenty of activity and had an eye for the goal when he got the ball. He led the team with four shots with most of those coming from outside the box which was good to see a player just trying to pressure the keeper into making a save. Santos also forced the foul on Jakob Glesnes that he and others believed would have been a penalty for the Crew. VAR changed that to a free kick.
Gyasi Zardes (5.5) - It was not the finest game for the Crew’s top striker. Zardes didn’t get much service. When he did, either the passes were too far ahead of his run or when the ball was hit with the right speed, he was unable to get a good first touch to get a good shot. One shot off target for a striker can be classified as an underwhelming start to the year.
Derrick Etienne Jr. (5.5) - Etienne made his return to the pitch after being unavailable from Thursday’s match with an ankle injury. In the 26 minutes played, he was most effective at drawing fouls late to give the Crew set piece chances late in the game. Etienne looked seriously hurt in that match in Nicaragua so those around the club are surely happy to see him come off the bench first on Sunday.
Bradley Wright-Phillips (N/A) - Wright-Phillips made his MLS Crew debut on Sunday and was only on the field for around seven minutes.
Alexandru Matan (N/A) - The young Romanian Matan made his Crew debut off the bench coming in for Santos in the 87th minute. His first MLS touch was a dribbling chance that was immediately stopped with a hard foul by Alejandro Bedoya. A nice welcome to MLS for the 21-year old.
Caleb Porter (6.5) - The game plan to stop Philly’s attack worked as Porter had his best defenders available out for the match. The attacking plan didn’t work as well as players start to get back in their groove but as Porter said, this match was between the two best MLS defenses last season and the two best goalkeepers. It’s a good point to earn to start the year with plenty of time for the squad to get healthy and train before a rapid schedule sets upon them starting April 28.
Who was the Man of the Match?
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