CHESTER, PA – The Philadelphia Union defeated Columbus Crew SC by a score of 3-0 in front of 15,413 at Talen Energy Stadium tonight. A 20th minute Ilsinho goal, followed by a straight red for Columbus defender Johnathan Mensah, dictated the rest of play and eventually the final result.
Union striker C.J. Sapong stood out once again for the Union, who desperately needed tonight’s three points. His bicycle kick assist on Ilsinho’s goal was followed by drawing a red card in the box, scoring a goal, and setting up Marcus Epps for his first MLS goal. Sapong’s dominance in the air, and ability to draw the attention of multiple defenders, makes him easily the Union’s most dangerous offensive weapon. “He’s a great player,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said about Sapong after the game. “His work rate is unbelievable.”
Ilsinho and Epps both made impacts on their respective wing positions, which are usually occupied by Fafa Picault and Chris Pontius. Ilsinho’s goal was a combination of reading the flow of play, solid positioning, and a sublime finish.
Epps was dangerous all night long and more than deserved his first MLS goal, which came late in the game. Doing his best Thierry Henry impression, Epps was effective at cutting in from the left side and placing a curling ball towards the far post multiple times. In the 18th minute he nipped one off the post and just missed another in the 50th of a similar nature. “He likes to cut in onto that right foot and hit the curled shot,” Union coach Jim Curtin said in his post-game press conference. “Earnie and I have seen him do that in practice a ton. He has a good calmness about him.”
Roland Alberg got the start in the #10 position tonight and failed to impress. While it’s clear he is one of the most skilled players on the team, he doesn’t seem to have the creativity or the killer instinct to be effective as a starter for the Union at the moment. He demanded the penalty that C.J. Sapong drew and then failed to convert, which was an uncomfortable enough situation that coach Jim Curtin spent almost 5 minutes talking about to open his post-game press conference. Ilsinho showed just how effective and crucial the #10 can be in this offense, and he seems to be the clear choice for that role going forward. On a night without Pontius and Picault though, Ilsinho was forced out wide, leaving Curtin to choose between either Najem for Alberg. Alberg just doesn’t seem to have the creativity or ability to make people miss that Ilsinho has showcased this season. I still think he can be a decent skilled addition to a match from off the bench, as this highlight reel strike shows, but for me he’s someone I don’t see as an impact starter in his current form.
Bedoya and Medunjanin did yeoman’s work in the middle against one of the best passing teams in the MLS. Speaking about Columbus, Bedoya after the game said “They’re tricky. They’re fast and like to tuck inside. It was important for me and Haris to be in front of our backline collecting balls, and I think we did that often.”
The Union back four helped the team put together their 8th shutout of the season. Oguchi Onyewu was disruptive the entire night, especially high up in the middle of the pitch when Philadelphia had three in the back while pressing for their second and third tallies. Despite not giving up any goals, there were more than a handful of worrisome moments where Columbus could have put themselves on the board. Jack Elliot saved a ball that got behind Union keeper Joh McCarthy in the 26th minute, only for the ball to fall at the feet of the dangerous Ola Kamara, who then ringed it off the crossbar. Kamara also found himself with a scoring opportunity in the 62nd, but again it went high and bounced off the bar.
Fullback play from Wijnaldum and Gaddis were crucial in the offensive pressure the Union applied, especially after going up a man. Bedoya pointed out that as opposed to Wednesday’s game, “Our pressing was just better. Our fullbacks came forward and made crosses. Last game we didn’t have any of that.”
Union keeper John McCarthy finally got to play in front of the home crowd in regular season play, and he came up big on a handful of saves. He will still have the crossbar to thank though for the Kamara sitter in the first half. It looks very possible that McCarthy will be getting some more playing time as a starter, as while I type this Union starter Andre Blake has gone off injured in the Gold Cup final against the United States.