COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and facing a hot Philadelphia Union team that still had a lot to play for, Sunday’s home finale looked like a tall task for the Columbus Crew. But the Crew rewarded the sellout crowd that stayed through a rain delay with a 2-0 win.
“We’ve gone from mid-season where we were losing games by one goal to now we are not losing – we’re winning and drawing – and obviously we had given up some late leads that cost us points, and as I said cost us being in the post-season,” said Crew head coach Caleb Porter, “But we can’t lose sight of the fact that we have 21 points in the last 12 games. That’s as good as anybody in the League during this stretch of games and yet, it should’ve been more.”
The first half was a largely uneventful affair, with the two teams both held scoreless as weather conditions deteriorated. Philadelphia couldn’t get a shot on target. Columbus managed two shots on goal, but neither were particularly dangerous. The Crew did the better job of creating chances, but couldn’t finish at a high enough level.
At halftime, lightning in the area prompted a delay that lasted roughly half an hour. During the delay, the New England Revolution beat New York City FC by a score of 2-0, meaning that the Union were still alive for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference if they beat the Crew.
Yet it was Columbus that came out of the locker room with renewed energy, culminating in a goal for Youness Mokhtar in the 69th minute. It was Mokhtar’s first goal in black and gold. Pedro Santos got the assist, giving him the team lead with six this season.
Just four minutes later, Santos earned a goal of his own. A Crew corner kick was punched out of the box by Philadelphia keeper Andre Blake. It went to the feet of Santos, who was able to score from distance. Blake had too many players between him and the ball to get a look at where the shot was coming from. The Union haven’t kept a clean sheet since July. It was the first clean sheet for Columbus since April 6th.
“I think we have a lot of confidence. All the games we played well […]. Today we showed that, and we didn’t make any of the mistakes we made the last game. It was a shutout, so I think it’s really important for the team – and for the defense especially – and for me as a goalkeeper because I knew we could do it,” Crew keeper Eloy Room said, “Sometimes you have to play with your head. Some games you play with too much of your heart and sometimes you have to be smart and make the right decision which we did this game.”
Now instead of playing for the No. 1 seed against NYCFC next week, Philadelphia is trying to stay in the No. 2 spot. The loss to Columbus coupled with a draw by Atlanta United slipped the Union down to third place on the first tiebreaker — total wins.
Sep 29, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; A general view of MAPFRE Stadium prior to the match between Columbus Crew SC and Philadelphia Union. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Columbus, meanwhile, already has eyes on 2020. Head coach Caleb Porter made multiple substitutions that looked planned to get minutes for different players in a variety of formations. The 4-3-3 that started the game didn’t produce much, but the 4-2-3-1 that the team has played during most recent seasons worked very well and Mokhtar shined off the bench as a player who should start next season.
Columbus will end the year on the road against Toronto FC.