The Philadelphia Union left Mafpre Stadium on Sunday night with its first point of the 2021 MLS season, but felt disappointed to not walk away with the full three against the defending MLS Cup Champions.
Jim Curtin’s side claimed a 0-0 draw against the Columbus Crew, posting a third-consecutive clean sheet across all competitions. After rolling past Deportivo Saprissa 4-0 in its Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 second leg matchup, the defending Supporters’ Shield winners lacked the final touch in front of goal.
Now ahead of a home opener with Inter Miami this weekend, Curtin hopes his players will be sharper, especially offensively.
“We can play a lot better,” Curtin said post match Sunday. “We can be a lot sharper and more decisive with our buildups, with our passing in the final third. I thought we gave Columbus a lot of problems, outshot them, created better chances tonight but maybe just didn’t execute in front of goal. It’s natural in Week 1 of a season.”
“There’s a lot of positives to take away, but it’s not often that you get a chance to steal a game here and a chance to get three points, and you feel a little empty in that regard.”
Andre Blake stole the show for the Union, posting his 12th clean sheet in all competitions since the restart of MLS play last July. The Jamaican international made seven saves, and helped silence a Crew attack, who had totaled five goals in its two CCL victories over Real Esteli.
Not only did Blake stand on his head, but the center back partnership of Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott did well to neutralize the Crew’s duo of Lucas Zelarayan and Gyasi Zardes. Zelarayan was held to two shots on goal, while Zardes failed to hit the target in his only effort in the 82nd minute.
As a whole, the Union did well to pressure the Crew and keep them on the back foot at times, a reason for its latest shutout.
“I think that’s our key to success,” Elliott said. “If we don’t play the way that we’re supposed to, with aggression and high pressing and being comfortable on the ball, I think we struggle. That’s a key for us in picking up results.”
“It’s always very good when you can get a zero,” Blake said. “You’re always very close to winning games. For us, defense wins championships so we’ve just got to keep being very good defensively and being very hard to break down and do our best to keep teams off the score sheet.”
The Union attack created five shots on goal in the match, but once again missed the energy of Ilsinho and Cory Burke as substitutes. Both players remained on the sidelines with respective injuries, forcing Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos to come up with the best chances on net.
Several youngsters featured once again on the Union bench including Paxten Aaronson, Quinn Sullivan, and Jack McGlynn, but none of them saw the pitch as Santos was the only substitution for the Union in the match. While the Homegrown players may have brought energy, Curtin wasn’t ready to toss them in against one of the best teams in MLS.
“We’re going to give these guys opportunities, but it has to be an opportunity that number one, they earned, and number two, that makes sense,” Curtin said. “To throw a kid into that game can also be counter-productive to their development. You want to set them up for success. You throw them into the last 10 minutes of that game, and I just would say nothing good can come of it.”
All-in-all, a spot in the CCL quarterfinals paired with three clean sheets and a +5 goal differential isn’t all bad for the Union, who will now gear up for the first of three home matches over the next two weeks.
“I thought in all phases of the game, we played well but still a lot of room for improvement,” Curtin said. “That was a good first 90 minutes but certainly things we can do better.”