Andre Blake reminded the league he’s one of the top showstoppers in MLS as he made eight saves to help Philadelphia Union grab a 1-1 result at Columbus Crew.
Five of Blake’s eight shot stops came in the first half as the hosts tried to turn the hometown energy into goals but couldn’t get by the three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in the run of play. Homegrown Nathan Harriel provided the Union’s lone goal of the night, smashing home a header before a penalty kick from the hosts led to the final result.
Head Coach Jim Curtin opted for a young lineup on Saturday night against Columbus Crew, kicking off the team’s slate of marquee matchups without five starters. Philadelphia’s top three goal scorers in Daniel Gazdag, Julián Carranza, and Mikael Uhre each started the match on the bench, while Jakob Glesnes and Jose Martinez remained missing from selection due to injury.
With the team’s strategy focused on keeping a shutout until the second half influx of game-changing talent on the bench, Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was called upon for key stops in the first half. The three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year faced a difficult challenge as the Columbus Crew entered Saturday’s contest tied for the most goals scored in Major League Soccer, sharing the top spot with Atlanta United, Philadelphia’s next opponent. The Ohio side showed their renowned aggressive attack early, earning the first opportunity of the game in the third minute. Cucho Hernández found Diego Rossi in the center of the box, but his shot went wide right. Malte Amundsen attempted a header off a cross two minutes later, but missed left.
Philadelphia Union nearly earned a chance of their own in the 14th minute after Jack Elliott battled with Malte Amundsen spurred a VAR review for a handball. After a lengthy check, the referee’s original call stood, with the determination that the Crew’s defender had his hand in a natural spot.
In the 19th minute, the Union’s high-press at midfielder presented another scoring chance as Quinn Sullivan broke away into Philadelphia's attacking end. As defenders crashed in, the Union homegrown cut a cross back into the field of play for Alejandro Bedoya who attempted to shoot but his effort was halted, instead falling to the ground. Appeals for a possibly penalty check rose again but ultimately the result stayed once more. Bedoya nearly created another chance moments later off a Kai Wagner corner in the 23rd minute, artfully tapping the ball toward Elliott, who’s shot just missed the goal.
Jesus Bueno took a bold boot from distance in the 26th minute off a corner, but missed high and wide. The Venezuelan didn’t hang his head as he was needed on the other side of the pitch with a goal-saving effort on Columbus Crew’s attacking end, poking the ball away from Diego Rossi running directly in front of the goal, sending it back into Philadelphia’s possession. Quinn Sullivan collected the ball and took a chance from long range, but the shot went just left, marking Philadelphia’s fourth missed attempt in five minutes.
After a wealth of chances for the Union, the opportunities quickly shifted in favor of Crew, who put Blake to work with relentless attack. The Reggae Boyz captain made a string of impressive saves starting in the 31st minute, when he stopped Alexandru Matan’s shot from the right of the box. He conceded a corner in the same minute, then made a preventative dive for a Hernández shot that ended up going just right of the net. He denied Hernandez again in the 34th minute, stopping his shot from the center of the box this time. He made yet another in the 37th minute, this time preventing Yaw Yeboah’s shot toward the bottom left corner.
Despite the announcers pointing out Blake grabbing his left knee, his play remained unshaken, making another stop in the 41st minute, stifling a Rossi shot with a punching save.
Blake was the undisputed star of the first half, maintaining a clean sheet with five saves. Columbus Crew finished the first 45’ with 12 goals to Philadelphia’s six, putting their offensive abilities on full display.
After Blake’s five-save first half that kept Columbus scoreless, Curtin injected his side with their attacking trio, adding Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, and Mikael Uhre to the mix.
Though the Union’s most dangerous offensive threats were on the pitch, it was 22-year-old homegrown defender Nathan Harriel who provided the fireworks with the opening goal in the 50th minute. Kai Wagner serviced a corner into the box and found aerial Harriel undefended for his first regular season goal this season. The play was not unfamiliar, though, as Harriel found the back of the net twice in similar fashion during the team’s summer run in Leagues Cup.
Up a goal, Philadelphia Union’s intensity mounted with Daniel Gazdag taking a chance in the 55th minute off a breakaway. His effort instead hit the back post.
Philadelphia Union early doubled their total in the 65th minute when Jack McGlynn found Julián Carranza who sent the ball past Crew keeper Patrick Shulte, but he was ruled offside. Carranza created another chance a minute later, battling two defenders to draw what could’ve been a red card but Uhre claimed possession and fired a shot from distance that crashed off the crossbar to wipe out the potential sending off.
Head Coach Wilfred Nancy turned to Christian Ramirez as the host’s first change and he became a key point as he drew a foul just outside the box against Elliott. The ensuing free kick crashed off the Union wall but saw an immediate point to the penalty spot for a Union handball in the box. After 72 minutes of trying, Hernández made it past Blake, drawing him in the opposite direction from the spot to give Crew their first goal of the night.
Another Union homegrown was called upon to help gather the road result as Matt Real took over left bak duties after Wagner exited the game in the 77th minute, holding his leg with pain. Real became the target of the Columbus attack on the left side as the Drexel Hill native hadn’t seen MLS minutes since July 12th at against Nashville SC. However Blake remained perfect from the run of play, making two big saves in stoppage time including a blast from Rossi to see out the important road point.
Philly is back in action on Wednesday night when they host Atlanta United FC at Subaru Park. The match presented by Widener University is set to kick off at 7:30PM ET and will be shown on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.