Despite a strong second-half push for a late equalizer, Columbus Crew SC dropped its Opening Match at MAPFRE Stadium, 2-1, to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night.
The Black & Gold created a number of chances in their first home match of 2016, but only Kei Kamara found the back of net in the 87th minute. It was too little too late for Crew SC after Union midfielder Chris Pontius recorded a brace for the visitors.
Crew SC controlled most of the action in the first half, but it took the Black & Gold 20 minutes to get their first shot on goal when defender Harrison Afful’s strike from distance went just wide. Ten minutes later, Afful and midfielder Tony Tchani set up Ethan Finlay on a nice give-and-go play. But the midfielder’s header went just wide of the left post.
Five minutes later it was Philly’s turn, when Union striker C.J. Sapong got loose at the top of the box to fire a curling shot that went just wide.
But Crew SC responded well and created two good opportunities before the break. First, Union goalkeeper Andre Blake blocked Afful’s shot from 25 yards for corner in the 37th. Five minutes later, Hector Jimenez found his way into the opposing box with some fancy footwork. The midfielder picked his spot and fired for the far post, but saw his shot pushed away by Blake.
The Eastern Conference Champions racked up eight shots in the first half and held almost 60% of the possession. However, in stoppage time, Union midfielder Chris Pontius found himself in the right place of a bouncing ball in the box, and slotted it passed Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark to give Philly the lead just before the break.
Trailing by a goal, the Black & Gold turned up the intensity in the next forty-five. In the 60th minute, Kamara received the ball in the attacking third, and curled a shot mere inches from goal.
Just as Crew SC piled on the pressure, the deficit increased, when Philadelphia’s Pontius found the net for the second time in the 71st minute with a strike from the top of the box into the bottom-left corner.
Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter reacted to the two-goal deficit by bringing on midfielders Justin Meram and Mohammed Saeid for Ethan Finlay and Waylon Francis. Saeid immediately contributed, as he laid off a short free kick to Wil Trapp, who stepped up from just outside the box for his shot, but could not convert on the opportunity in the 80th.
A minute later Federico Higuain missed with a shot that went just over the upper-right 90. Fellow midfielders Justin Meram and Cedrick Mabwati came close as well in the 83rd and 87th, but Blake once again denied both opportunities.
The goalkeeper recorded eight saves on 19 Black & Gold shots. While he could not keep a clean sheet for 90 minutes, as Kamara pulled one back in the 87th with a powerful header, it was enough to secure the three points for Philly.
The Black & Gold continue to look for their first points in 2016. They will be back in action next Saturday when they visit the Chicago Fire. Kickoff at Toyota Park is set for 5:00 p.m. ET.