Philadelphia Union rocketed into third place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-0 win over defending MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew on Sunday evening. The win not only pushed the club up the table but was a total team effort with goals from Jack Elliott, Alejandro Bedoya and Leon Flach followed by crucial saves by Andre Blake when the squad was down to 10 men.
Sunday’s match was the third regular season of the year to pit last year’s two trophy-winning sides against each other. And in this tight 2021 playoff race, both teams needed three points. Only the Union, however, came prepared to fight for those points, earning a blowout 3-0 win despite going down a man in the second half.
Looking to exploit the Crew’s three-back system with Sergio Santos’ pace, Philly’s attacks came in two waves with Santos stretching the backline and right back Alvas Powell following up to combine with Kacper Przybylko in the space Santos created. The Reggae Boyz regular blew past the defense and raced to the end line in the third minute but saw his cross blocked. Two minutes later Columbus fouled the outside back to set up a Union free kick which Kai Wagner placed on frame but saved.
Santos grew into the attack and showed off his incredible pace after captain Alejandro Bedoya sent a ball from midfield over the back line that looked fairly innocent. Columbus thought so too but Santos raced into the box, won the ball, and dragged goalkeeper Evan Bush out of goal. With the keeper retreating, Santos was surrounded and the Crew survived the dangerous run.
The Crew attempted to settle the match into a predictable rhythm but that simply isn’t how the Union play. Phillly stuck to their strategy and it paid off. Santos collected the ball 35 yards from goal and looked to spin free and race in but was taken down by veteran Darlington Nagbe.
The distance seemed tailor-made for a Jakob Glesnes rocket, but to the surprise of all at Subaru Park, Jack Elliott was the center back that lined up a shot. Confident over the ball, the Union stalwart sent a low ball skipping twice on the pitch, and a lost Evan Bush watched it roll into the net and put the Boys in Blue ahead against the defending champs.
The second half opened perfectly for the Union. Przybylko peeled out wide at full sprint and took a look into the center of the box where Santos and Gazdag had cleared space with hard runs. Bedoya had rotated to the center when Przybylko slid to the right and trailed the play with a veteran’s timing. Low centering pass, first touch, goal for the captain.
Philadelphia’s pressure continued to leave Columbus with no rhythm and a lack of control. Counterpressure again created an opportunity just outside the visitors’ box but Monteiro could only skim the netting outside of the near post with a looping free kick.
The Crew looked for early switches out of pressure to find their way into the Union half, but Powell, Bedoya, and Flach rotated with energy even as the match wore on. In the 59th minute, Columbus found space in the box but a quick shot tagged Jakob Glesnes in the stomach and bounced out of play. Glesnes was down on the ground for a short time recovering his breath before play resumed.
In the 64th minute, the Union went down a man when Wagner was assessed a second yellow card for impeding a run in the open field. Although there was not much movement on Wagner’s part to warrant, the call stood and Jim Curtin shifted Leon Flach to left back for the remainder of the match.
Monteiro and Bedoya took over the center of the park with Quinn Sullivan replacing Gazdag and moving to the right wing.
The match featured more controversy ten minutes later when Alvas Powell and Gyasi Zardes collided chasing an aerial ball in the box. The referee quickly assessed a penalty kick. Pedro Santos stepped to the spot and curled a ball to Andre Blake’s left. Blake, threw up his hands and pushed the ball away from the net before rising, stone-faced, to accept words of congratulations from his teammates.
Pedro Santos almost immediately hit the ground after missing the penalty, earning another Crew free kick and the ire of Bedoya, who clearly felt the Columbus attacker could have stayed on his feet.
Lucas Zelarayan pulled the free kick and it skipped past the near post.
The pressure was growing, however, and Jim Curtin replaced Sergio Santos with Stuart Findlay to add more security in the box. Almost immediately, Darlington Nagbe nodded down a bouncing ball 15 yards and looked to have Blake beat with a curling effort toward the top corner.
With surprising grace, Blake was immediately off the ground and flying through the air before palming the shot away to the astonishment of the crowd.
Sullivan embraced the relentless work that Flach, Bedoya, and Monteiro had modeled all night, teaming up with Powell to close off the left side of the pitch. Columbus was desperate to create on the right but ran into Przybylko selflessly supporting his teammates to keep numbers favorable.
The match looked as though it would end quietly on the pitch as Columbus faded from the game, but Sullivan had other ideas. Lofting an audacious pass toward the right corner flag, Sullivan saw that nobody else was chasing the pass, so he did. After recovering it the Homegrown scooped a cross to the back post where Leon Flach used the outside of his foot to open his MLS account. The final whistle brought loud cheers of appreciation from fans who watched a Union side that has not always imposed themselves on the competition this season flex on a lesser opponent.
Philadelphia Union continues its battle in the Eastern Conference table as it begins at three-game road swing starting first with FC Cincinnati. Kick off from the Queen City is set for 8 p.m. ET and fans can catch the action on PHL17 and PhiladelphiaUnion.com.