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What We Learned: Crew vs. Philadelphia Union

Despite the loss, we had plenty to take away from the Black & Gold’s trip to Philadelphia.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew went to the Philadelphia Union on a high of a three-game winning streak that saw the Black & Gold climb back into the top four in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference. That streak came to an end following a 1-0 loss after a Jamiro Monteiro goal in the first half.

It was not the result the Crew hoped for in the road trip against one of the other East’s top teams. But they say you can learn more from a loss than a win, and that seems to be true in this contest.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from Columbus’ 1-0 defeat against the Union.

Not all losses are bad losses

First of all, it’s important to remind everyone that Philadelphia is a good team. Largely the same group, led by underrated head coach Jim Curtin, won the Supporters’ Shield with the best record in MLS last year. What got the Union to that mark was the best defense in the league. This year, Philadelphia has picked up where the team left off last regular season and has found its form of late.

Because of this, the game in Subaru Park was never going to be an easy one for a Crew team that is still working to get some of its important pieces back to full fitness.

That alone makes going to Philadelphia and losing 1-0 not a terrible result. But when you consider how the Black & Gold played, it actually was a good performance, one head coach Caleb Porter said will result in wins in MLS more often than not.

After the first 10 or so minutes, Columbus controlled the game. The Crew had 61.6 percent possession in the match and outshot the Union 8-5 with 222 more passes than Philadelphia. While the Black & Gold didn’t get their first shot on target until close to the 75th minute, they still finished with two, one more than the Union.

In a series that has recently been tight, defensive affairs, this game was always going to come down to a few moments. Unfortunately for Columbus, the ball fell to Monteiro who hit a shot through traffic that went in. On the other end, the Crew couldn’t capitalize on its few good opportunities. Sometimes things literally don’t fall a team’s way.

Porter, however, was pleased with how his team performed in a tough game and believes there is plenty to build on and learn from this match.

The Crew has some good, young players

Coming into the year, Black & Gold fans knew about Aidan Morris and hoped other young players would come along. Morris, unfortunately, suffered a season-ending injury, so his star will have to wait to get brighter. But there are others who are shining.

In the last two matches, offseason signing winger Alexandru Matan has gotten to start and performed well. He has shown good ability on the ball and a fearlessness to take on defenders from the wing. He is willing to shoot the ball from distance and, at times, has made some clever passes.

It is not perfect for Matan, who is still just 21 years old, but there are signs that a talented player could bloom. And given that he can play multiple positions and can learn from other veterans in those roles, he should continue to progress with more experience.

There wasn’t much buzz when the Crew made a loan move to bring in Liam Fraser from Toronto FC, despite the midfielder being a Canadian international. With Darlington Nagbe, Artur and Perry Kitchen in central midfield, the thought was that Fraser was just a depth piece, and perhaps he is when everyone is healthy.

But in the last two games, Fraser has shown to be a real factor in midfield. He made some good passes and tackles in the game against the Union, as well as a near goal-line clearance to prevent a second goal.

While Matan is a Crew player for the foreseeable future, Fraser is just on loan for this season. It will be interesting to see if Columbus attempts to sign him on a full-time basis from TFC after this year.

The Black & Gold can create offense without Lucas Zelarayan

For the first several games of 2021, Zelarayan was the Crew’s offense, scoring or assisting nearly every goal. That has not been as much of the case the last couple of games, with Zelarayan not recording one of those statistics.

While Columbus didn’t score in this game, the team moved the ball well and got in good spots in the first half when Zelarayan was not in the game. The attack was certainly better with the Argentine playmaker on the field in the second half, but that’s to be expected with a record signing and the MLS Cup MVP.

Having Kevin Molino in the lineup certainly made a difference, as the Union was consistently aware of where the former Minnesota United star was in the first 45 minutes but other players stepped up as well. And as he gets more fit and comfortable with his teammate,s his ability will start to shine. The Crew need to be better with the final ball, something Zelarayan is so good at playing, but given how good Philadelphia’s defense is, it makes sense that the team struggled to find forward Gyasi Zardes.

Playing against other teams with a similar level of control and attacking prowess will often lead to Columbus getting better chances and scoring goals. And because Zelarayan isn’t the type of player who can play every game, this is good news for the Black & Gold.