The Columbus Crew stumbled to a 3-0 loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, undone by a horrific six-minute stretch in the first half and continued problems on offense. Eric Gehrig deflected a shot into his own net, followed quickly by goals from Sheanon Williams and Conor Casey, and the Crew were never able to recover.
Coming into Wednesday's game the team had an opportunity to climb back into a playoff spot with a victory - leapfrogging Philadelphia and New England in the process. The loss, however, leaves the team five points out of fifth place with only one game in hand - and a hill to climb if the team is to challenge for postseason honors.
Neither team was on its best form in the early going, with passes off target and a general lack of urgency on the field. Philadelphia did show signs of threatening in the opening 15 minutes, however, particularly from the flanks. Chad Barson and Tyson Wahl were each victimized, although only one of the chances produced a shot on goal; Danny Cruz slipped to the turf in the 7th minute while Jack McInerney was called offside before pinging a shot off the post in the 10th minute.
The Crew's best chance of the first half came in the 20th minute when Dominic Oduro drifted all the way to the left touch line to receive a pass from Ben Speas. From this wide position, Oduro was finally facing goal with the ball at his feet, and was able to slash into the penalty area and shoot on goal. MacMath bobbled the shot, but was able to recover before Justin Meram could react and pounce on the loose ball.
In the 25th minute, the Columbus game plan started to unravel. A poor pass in midfield gifted the ball to Brian Carroll, who launched a speculative shot from more than 35 yards. Eric Gehrig stepped into the shot's path but could only watch helplessly as the ball skipped past Andy Gruenebaum and into the net.
Four minutes later Philadelphia doubled their advantage, this time from a corner kick. Sebastian Le Toux's effort found the head of Carroll, who skimmed a header to the far post. Sheanon Williams was waiting, incredibly unmarked after slipping away from Justin Meram, for an easy tap-in.
The Union fans were still standing when the Crew's defensive collapse reached its nadir two minutes later. Sebastian Le Toux stripped possession from Tyson Wahl on the left flank, then sent a cross to the near post where Conor Casey sent a glancing header into the net past Gruenebaum.
The trio of goals each exposed defensive mistakes from different players, but the overwhelming effect was the smother any hopes the Crew had for a positive result. Coach Robert Warzycha made a pair of changes at halftime, inserting Aaron Schoenfeld and Kevan George in an attempt to spark the offense (Schoenfeld) and shore up the back line (George). This was only partially successful, for while the team did not concede another goal it was unable to muster a dangerous scoring chance until late in the second half when Schoenfeld shot on the turn from the top of the area. Zac MacMath was never seriously troubled in the Union goal.
What it means
The loss leaves the Crew in danger of losing touch with the upper half of the Eastern Conference. The team sits in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, two positions and five points out of a playoff berth. While the team is six points ahead of Chicago Fire in eighth place, the Fire have two games in hand. The Revolution, two points ahead of the Crew, also have played one fewer game.
Columbus will not play this weekend, as Major League Soccer enters a sparse section of the schedule during World Cup qualifying. They travel to Chicago for an Open Cup game against the Fire next Wednesday, and return to league play the following weekend with a visit from conference-leading Montreal.
Timelinen of events
1' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - long, eventual shot saved)
19' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - long, over everyone)
22' Corner kick, Philadelphia (left side - headed clear)
25' 1-0 Eric Gehrig (own goal)
27' Corner kick, Columbus (left side - punched clear by MacMath)
29' Corner kick, Philadelphia (left side - goal at far post)
29' 2-0 Sheanon Williams (Brian Carroll, Sebastien Le Toux)
31' 3-0 Conor Casey (Sebastien Le Toux)
45' Aaron Schoenfeld replaces Ben Speas
45' Kevan George replaces Tyson Wahl
50' Corner kick, Philadelphia (right side - headed high and cleared)
59' Caution, Raymon Gaddis (professional foul on Dominic Oduro)
71' Antoine Hoppenot replaces Conor Casey
73' Corner kick, Philadelphia (left side - shot wide from Jeff Parke)
75' Caution, Tony Tchani (professional foul on Jack McInerney)
76' Bernardo Anor replaces Justin Meram
80' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - headed out)
82' Roger Torres replaces Danny Cruz
90' Aaron Wheeler replaces Sebastien Le Toux
90' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - caught by MacMath)
Andy Gruenebaum, Chad Barson, Eric Gehrig, Glauber, Tyson Wahl (Kevan George 45'), Matias Sanchez, Tony Tchani, Justin Meram (Bernardo Anor 76'), Ben Speas (Aaron Schoenfeld 45'), Federico Higuain, Dominic Oduro
Matt Lampson, Danny O'Rourke, Ethan Finlay, Konrad Warzycha
Zac MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, Jeff Parke, Raymon Gaddis, Danny Cruz (Roger Torres 82'), Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel, Sebastien Le Toux (Aaron Wheeler 90'), Conor Casey (Antoine Hoppenot 71'), Jack McInerney
Chris Konopka, Leo Fernandes, Michael Farfan, Chris Albright