After the Columbus Crew’s first loss this season against Nashville SC last week, a bounce-back performance proved too difficult. The Black & Gold fell to the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union 1-0 on Saturday night after Eloy Room’s early mistake was too hard to overcome.
Columbus could not have scripted a worse start to this game. In Philadelphia's first attack of the game, Union’s Jose Martinez’s cross floated a lot closer to the goal than expected. Instead of catching, Eloy Room punched the ball in the opposite direction, resulting in an own goal and a second minute and a Philadephia 1-0 lead.
The Crew’s philosophy after falling behind seemed to be physical and play with some urgency, but it resulted in sloppy fouls instead of taking the ball off of Philly.
Room did make up for his blunder as he made a crucial save from a Daniel Gazdag shot in the 23rd minute that should have made it 2-0. The defense looked out of sorts as they fell all over the penalty box, giving Gazdag a wide-open opportunity.
The long passes for much of the first half were not close to their targets, and the attack looked to Lucas Zelarayan to have an MVP performance that just never materialized. The
Black & Gold’s wings began to create chances on the outside, but when they did, there was typically nobody to capitalize on them. The attack started to find its form towards the halftime whistle, getting a chance from Yaw Yeboah, Miguel Berry and Lucas Zelarayan with none of them finding the net.
Zelarayan’s free kick was just barely saved by Union’s Goalkeeper Andre Blake, which resulted in Blake’s shoulder colliding with the left post, giving him severe discomfort, but he elected to stay on.
The Crew came out in the second half, playing more as they did in the last 15 minutes than the beginning with Arthur having a chance early before he was subbed off for James Igbekeme. Room coame up vital once again in the 53rd minute, making another big save.
Columbus’ best chance from open play came from a counte rattack after a Philadelphia corner. Santos played a terrific ball into the net with multiple grey jerseys in the box, but unfortunately, Ettienne tripped as he shot, and Steven Moreira's shot grazed over the bar.
By the 70th minute, the story of the second half was straightforward, Columbus was going to be pressing high, and Philadelphia was going to drop back and hope for a counterattack goal. Philadelphia’s displayed why they have a top-tier defense, only allowing two goals this season as Columbus could not break down the defense in the box.
The 82nd minute saw Union’s Cory Burke take the ball off of Moreira, leading to a two-on-one against Degenek, but another Eloy Room save kept Columbus’ dreams of a tie alive. However, that tie did not happen as the Union’s defense stood tall, giving Columbus their second straight loss.
Philadelphia's defense too difficult to break down
The Crew came into the game aware of the challenge the team was facing against the Union’s defense. Philadelphia came in on a four-game winning streak, largely due to three straight clean sheets. The Black & Gold certainly tried to exploit that left side of the defense, but the help defense from all of the back four was a brilliant display of team defending. Martinez had arguably the best performance this season, shutting down Zelarayan as much as possible. The Crew could learn a lot by watching that backline perform.
Columbus must stop relying on Lucas Zelarayan
Zelarayan did not have a terrible performance on the day, but he was not near the form he was in last month when he was voted MLS Player of the Month. When Zelarayan is not having a magical performance and pulling all the strings in the attack, the front four look lost, especially in finishing, as they aren’t getting as many open chances. This is not just the story of this game, but for the last few games. Columbus fans may have bought into this attack being more lethal than it really is after the first couple of games of the season. The Crew needs to figure out how to still be clinical when Zelarayan is being contained.
The Black & Gold will get some comfort in the next game, playing back at Lower.com Field next Saturday against Orland City SC at 7:30 pm ET. Orlando is the most experienced team this season, as this will be their eighth game of the season. The Lions have proven to be quite inconsistent this season, so this will be a test for both clubs currently on up and down campaigns.