Philadelphia lost for the first time this season against a Crew team that looks much improved under first year manager Gregg Berhalter.
You have to give credit to Columbus.
They played a solid game, took advantage of two Union mistakes, and did enough to claim a second straight win to begin the season. Philadelphia played a good second half, but couldn't convert on a number of opportunities to grab another goal and salvage a point on the road.
1. Leo influences the second half
Whereas the New England game featured a strong first half and a weaker second half, the Columbus game played out in the opposite manner.
Figure 1: A look at the offensive production of Saturday's Union-Crew match
At the final whistle, the Union had out-shot Columbus 19 to nine. Philadelphia had four shots on goal, and Columbus had just two. There were twice as many attempts on goal for the Zolos and the crossing attempts also skewed in favor of the visitors.
The first diagram shows the lopsided shooting numbers.
A big reason for the turnaround was the insertion of Leo Fernandes in the second half. He again sparked the offense, changing the flow of the game with his eagerness to get forward and put pressure on Giancarlo Gonzalez and Michael Parkhurst.
Leo's statistics tell the story.
He played just 35 minutes but lead the team in total shots and shots on goal. Jack McInerney had four shots with one on goal. Vincent Nogueira took three shots and placed one on goal. Maurice Edu and Aaron Wheeler had two shots apiece.
Leo was not afraid to shoot, and his presence on the field opened up space for his teammates to pass and move.
2. Fixing the Mistakes
When you make mistakes, sometimes they go unpunished.
The Union weren't lucky in that department.
The first goal was a classic case of an unmarked runner on a set piece play. Bernardo Anor was able to start outside of the penalty area, ghost towards the back post, and head home even with a defender on the line.
Set piece defending boils down to two principles: assignment and execution.
Restart marking is often discussed before the game begins. A coach might tell his tallest center back to mark an opposition center back. Fullbacks who are smaller and quicker might be put on the posts to aid the goalkeeper. Sometimes a free defender will float around the box in a "zonal" fashion, but the modern game normally features 1v1 marking inside the box.
Assignment is the easy part. Execution is the hard part; you've got to want it more.
Set piece defending is about being stronger, jumping higher, and pushing harder. The ball is in the air and you're going to go up and get it before the other guy does.
The first Columbus goal came from a lapse on the first principle.
The second Columbus goal game from a Union turnover in the midfield. Credit to Bernardo Anor for taking the space and hitting a great shot to the far post.
At the end of the day, the positive here is that both conceded goals were the product of fixable mistakes. If your team is getting outworked and outmuscled, then you've got a problem. That wasn't the case on Saturday.
3. Wheeler Performs Well
Aaron Wheeler had a good game filling in for Austin Berry. It was his first MLS start at center back, and also just his second league start since joining the Union in 2013. Aaron played only 129 minutes last year and this was his first full 90 for the club.
Figure 2: A look at Arrieta and Higuain's day as a result of the Union's defensive press
His assignment was at left center back between Amobi Okugo and Fabinho. Columbus came out in a 4-4-1-1 with Federico Higuain floating behind lone striker Jairo Arrieta. Philadelphia's defense held those two players to just two off-target shots. Higuain was caught offside twice and Arrieta was subbed in the second half for Dominic Oduro, who could only muster a single shot himself.
The second diagram shows that the key offensive production came from the Columbus midfield.
Aaron's defensive numbers were good: three blocks, six interceptions, five clearances, six recoveries, and a blocked cross. Not surprisingly, Wheeler's passing and foul concession wasn't as strong as Okugo's.
That's to be expected when you're starting your first ever game in defense.
Thing of anything we missed? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org