The Columbus Crew returned home for their first home match of July to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Lower.com Field. In what looked like a tough challenge on paper was just as tough on the field. While Columbus battled the tied for first place Philadelphia Union on the field, Black & Gold supporters donned pink in protest of ownership’s avoidance of the overturned Roe v Wade Supreme Court reversal. Without banners, drums or capos leading the chants, Columbus earned a point against Philadelphia, in a 0-0 contest.
While the Crew were honoring the stadium, it was the players receiving cards in the first half, but not in celebration. Columbus earned four total cards in the first 45 minutes, and the first came in the first minute of the match. Center back and captain Jonathan Mensah went up for a scissor kick style clearance and caught Philadelphia midfielder Kai Wagner on the shoulder with his leg and boot, and it foreshadowed a half of physical play.
Offensively, it was the visiting Union who had the best chances early. Within the first five minutes, Columbus’ defense allowed two dangerous Philadelphia crosses that went through the penalty area, with nobody on the other side. Had the Union been further forward, it could have looked like the last time these two teams played, with Columbus going down early.
Instead, Columbus withstood the pressure and had the best chances in the first 45 minutes. The first came in the 14th minute, with the return of midfielder Lucas Zelarayán taking his first dangerous free kick in the offensive area since returning to play on Wednesday, following three matches off due to a knee injury. Jamaican international goalkeeper Andre Blake caught the shot easily.
Then, three minutes later, an even better chance fell on the Crew’s lap when midfielder Sean Zawadzki was tackled in the penalty area. Fullback Pedro Santos stepped up to take the penalty kick but Blake guessed correctly on a well-taken shot. Blake dove to his right and stopped the shot heading towards the post.
Making his second start in a row, since signing a senior team contract, was forward Jacen Rusell-Rowe. The former Crew 2 MLS NEXT Pro development league player, who also won Team of the Week on Friday, continued to look good in the attack. While he didn’t register a shot on goal, Russell-Rowe created moments.
In the 22nd minute, Russell-Rowe, in his defensive half, tackled the ball away, retained possession and sent a perfect pass up the field to charging Zelarayán who tried to chip Blake, who was out of position. The shot was too high to make a real challenge.
Columbus’ second yellow came just before their third. In the 36th minute, Zelarayán received a quickly handed out yellow after an errant hand hit a Union face. Then, two minutes later, it was a Union foul that led to a third Crew caution.
Philadelphia center back Jack Elliot rushed Russell-Rowe down the sideline and as the ball went out, Elliot extended his arm and sent Russell-Rowe flying into the metal barriers, 10-feet from the sideline. This caused the Crew bench to run over and approach Elliot and check on Russell-Rowe. Both Elliot and then-Crew substitute forward Erik Hurtado received a yellow; Elliot for the push and Hurtado for approaching Elliot.
The fourth Crew first half yellow went to Santos, for dissent, after not agreeing with a foul near the right sideline. Columbus went into the half level with the Union, but needing to be careful to avoid a second yellow, 10-men situation.
To start the second half, head coach Caleb Porter brought Hurtado into the match for Russell-Rowe. Hurtado made his first appearance since sustaining an injury after Crew and Charlotte FC’s 1-1 draw on June 18. Hurtado entered scoring three goals in his previous three matches before the injury.
Columbus started the second half with the better of the chances and earned another yellow. This time, fullback Steven Moreira received one for standing in the way of a throw-in. For the concern of Columbus’ cautions, Philadelphia did see their name entered too. After two tough tackles, without a caution, in the first half for Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, the third time was a charm for the former United States international when he earned a yellow near the 60th minute.
Zelarayán and the Crew got the stadium on their feet in the 66th minute. Santos sent a cross into the box to the Armenian international and slotted the ball into the right side of the net. After the cheering and pyrotechnics subsided, Sunday’s match official headed to the VAR monitor and overturned the goal. During the shot, Hurtado was in an offside position, blocking the viewpoint of Blake. The match remained 0-0.
The remaining 20 minutes saw much of the same as the first 80. Columbus attacked on offense but a Union defense that’s given up only 13 goals in 17 matches showed why they’re the best defense in the league.
Going for the win
While a draw is never the goal of a match for Porter, a point against the Philadelphia Union is an accomplishment. Columbus’ coach brought in midfielders James Igbekeme, Kevin Molino and Derrick Etienne Jr., while removing more defensive players, hoping for the victory.
All match though, the Union looked ok with grinding out a road point against a Columbus side that entered undefeated in four straight. With the season now officially halfway over, draws need to turn to wins if the Crew want a chance of getting out of a non-playoff spot.
Degenek defensive display
With Columbus’ offseason center back signing of Miloš Degenek, the Australian’s had up and down performances. On Sunday, Degenek played his best performance for Columbus. Having a great center back performance means not calling attention to yourself. Throughout set pieces, the run of play and even an attack on offense, Degenek showed why Columbus brought in the potential World Cup player.
Columbus returns in six days, heading to Chicago to face the Chicago Fire on Saturday, July 9. Saturday’s match is the first against the Fire in 2022 and the old MLS rivalry has a bit more flair because forward Cucho Hernández will be eligible to play for the Crew.