Facing the Colombus Crew for the second time in a four day span, both teams got off to a tepid start. Both teams looked like, well, two teams who had played three games in an eight-day time span.
There was drama, there were a smattering of boos for one of our own, and there were no shortage of straight red cards (oh, the irony) in tonight’s feverish Eastern Conference match.
Let’s jump right into it.
Philadelphia tried to come out aggressively, and it looked like Jim Curtin had a clear gameplan in the early going, as Columbus were forced into making several mistakes. But they soon discovered the keys to unlocking the Union defense, which was opened up by some questionable marking from Ray Gaddis that left Oguchi Onyewu and Jack Elliott out to dry.
Countless times, Kekuta Manneh and Co. were left all alone, streaking down the right side of the Philadelphia Union defense. But thanks to several poor decisions and passes, the Crew never got the goal that they probably deserved.
In the 20th minute, the Union, and of all people, Ilsinho would make them rue their missed chances. And oh, was it a goal for the ages.
After Marcus Epps hit woodwork, CJ Sapong joined in with a scintillating bicycle kick assist for an Ilsinho rocket. It looked a little something like this:
— #GulatiOut (@ChuckBoothSport) July 27, 2017
But even though the Union got out to the early advantage, things wouldn’t be so painless going forward. I mean, this is Philly, right?
Careless back passes from Union defenders nearly led to two goals in quick succession for the Crew. Luck was on the Union’s side, when Colombus went full Hindenburg in the 35th minute.
Roland Alberg played CJ Sapong through with a well-timed through ball. Jonathan Mensah, playing the man and not the ball, gave up the eventual penalty for the Union and received a red card for his efforts (or lack thereof). Several Crew players were livid afterward, including Lalas Abubakar, who earned himself a yellow card for dissent.
Columbus would be ultimately spared by Alberg’s missed penalty kick, which was saved by Zack Steffen, who extended fully to tip it off the bar and out of play. We would head into the second half with the score 1-0 in favor of the Boys-in-Blue.
It began just as slowly as the first, with the Union struggling to create many scoring chances.
But in the 66th minute, fireworks flew (just a few weeks too late). Giliano Wijnaldum sent in a ball that clanged off the post to a lurking CJ Sapong. Sapong fired the ball past Steffen for his 10th goal of the year, which is a new career high.
Crew’s frustration peeked when Lalas Abubakar pulled Ilsinho down by his neck to earn a straight red card and a deserved two-match suspension, reducing the Crew to nine men.
Two nil up and two men up, the Union put the icing on the cake in the 81st minute, when Marcus Epps notched his first career goal in MLS. Sapong knocked the ball down for Epps, who calmly finished it off with a half-volley that nestled in the top corner.
It was what seemed a long time coming for Epps, who was all over the pitch on the night and put in a Lad of the Match worthy performance. Nevertheless, Epps goal finished off a convincing performance for the Union, who jumped Montréal in the East with the win.
Tonight’s Lad of the Match
There is only one Lad who deserves this tonight, and that is CJ Sapong. Being inviolved in all three Union goals shows his true worth to the team.
I’m also biased because I captained him in MLS Fantasy this week. Have yourself a day, son.
For me, it’s CJ Sapong.
Dude has gotten his fair share of criticism over the years for cooling down mid-season, but what Sapong has shown at this point in the season, is that he’s a capable goal scorer in Major League Soccer. I’d argue he’s been the Union’s most valuable player this season, given their inability to score goals.
It’s now 10 goals on the year for Sapong, who has shown pure adversity over the years, this season, as well as tonight.
Next up for the Philadelphia Union is a trip up Interstate-95 on Saturday to face New England at Gillette Stadium. Look out for the next U in Preview, which will take a closer look at the match.