The table was set for the Crew to come away with three points Saturday night. Philadelphia Union was playing its fifth game in fifteen days, while the Crew was well rested and playing at home where they’d lost just once. Philadelphia had not been scoring much, while the Crew is the highest scoring team in MLS. So why could the Crew manage just a 1-1 draw? Here are some reasons according to a soccer non-expert (that would be me).
The Difference Maker
The Crew had 68 percent of the possession, attempted 21 shots, had eight shots on goal, and generally dominated play. So, what happened? Union goalkeeper Andre Blake is what happened. He was simply outstanding all night and turned away all eight of those shots on goal. If wasn’t being good, he was being a bit lucky, like when he pushed a rebound straight out and it went directly between two Crew players who were all alone in front of him. Crew head coach Wilfried Nancy told the Columbus Dispatch,
“We had good chances. The goalkeeper is so good. He made a few saves. He made many saves.”
Blake most certainly did and was the difference maker Saturday night.
Set piece bugaboo
Back in the late 90’s, there was a commercial that featured a truck driver who hauled cars for one of the manufacturers. He ended the ad by saying, “Oh well, here we go again.” That has to be exactly how Crew fans felt when their favorite team gave up yet another set piece goal. Early in the second half, Kai Wagner’s corner kick found a WIDE OPEN Nathan Harriel. He wasn’t the only one who was open, there were multiple Philly players unmarked around the net. Of the last six goals conceded by the Crew, three have come from set pieces. Will this be the Crew’s undoing in the playoffs? It certainly doesn’t bode well, does it?
I hate to go there, but…
Late in the game, during a scramble in front of Blake, the ball headed toward the Crew’s Christian Ramirez. As he was about to take a point-blank shot that would have given the Crew the lead, he was hauled down from behind by Philadelphia’s Jack Elliott. Not a jersey-tug pull down. Oh no, nothing of the sort. This was a grab-and-pull-over-backwards wrestling move. Everyone in the stadium expected the Crew to be awarded their second penalty shot of the second half. Referee Jon Freeman disagreed and told the teams to play on. Up to that point, Freeman had the usual night of most MLS referees. He made some good calls and a few head-scratchers. But, when he swallowed his whistle and refused to call an obvious foul, he directly affected the outcome of the game. Afterward, Freeman told Ramirez he was just as culpable on the play as Elliott. You’re got to be kidding. Ramirez was basically body slammed onto his back. Do you think Freeman would have let it go if Messi had been pulled down like this? Or of it were Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar or Cincinnati’s Luciano Acosta? Freeman would have blown his whistle and immediately pointed to the penalty spot. I really don’t like to go the officiating route, but the bottom line is he blew the call.
This draw, combined with New England’s win, has dropped the Crew to fifth place in the Eastern Conference. They go on the road to New England, who is now in third place, for a midweek matchup on Wednesday.