Columbus Crew returns home, ties Philadelphia Union after penalty kick from Cucho Hernandez

Sept. 30, 2023; Columbus, Oh., USA; 
Philadelphia Union defender Damion Lowe (17) and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernandez (9) compete for a ball during the first half of Saturday's match at Field in Columbus.
Sept. 30, 2023; Columbus, Oh., USA; Philadelphia Union defender Damion Lowe (17) and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernandez (9) compete for a ball during the first half of Saturday's match at Field in Columbus.

Cucho Hernandez was at the center of attention when the Crew needed him most.

Trailing by a goal against Philadelphia United — a team one point above the Crew in the Eastern Conference standings, a team that had already secured an MLS Cup playoff spot — Hernandez strode to the line in the 72nd minute to try and get the Crew out of their offensive funk.

After securing a penalty kick opportunity with a called handball by Union defender Jack Elliott, Hernandez obliged, keeping the Union (14-8-10) from securing three points and helping the Crew (14-9-9) to a 1-1 draw Saturday night.

With the draw, the Crew moved to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, with the New England Revolution securing the 2-1 win against Charlotte FC Saturday.

The Crew tried to get three points of its own late in the second half, as Christian Ramirez, who checked in for Aidan Morris in the 60th minute, had a shot saved from the center of the scoring box, waving his hands to show referees he thought he was fouled.

Facing a "scramble" in the box, Ramirez said he turned and went to hit the ball that was in front of him, but was pulled back when he went to hit it. He said the referee did not call a penalty, feeling that both Ramirez and the defender were "pulling at each other."

"It’s one of those that could go either way," Ramirez said. "I just watched the replay back, and I could see that I’m being pulled down. It’s tough to not get that call, but refs have a tough job."

To coach Wilfried Nancy, this was not the game that defined the outcome for the Crew Saturday night.

Early in the second half, after a slew of substitutions, bringing in attackers Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza, who returned from concussion protocol, Nathan Harriel connected on a header off a corner kick and the cross by Kai Wagner.

While Nancy said the Crew controlled the Union's amount of shots on target — holding Philadelphia to two shots on goal — he said the defense let up on the set-piece corner.

"We can talk about a lot of things, but, like I told the players, we cannot concede a corner like this," Nancy said. "For me, this is not about coaching. This is about (having) three guys alone in the six-yard box. You don’t have to coach that. They have to learn that, and we know that."

The score was the Union’s second try on goal, after Crew goalkeeper Patrick Schulte saved a shot by Alejandro Bedoya in the bottom left corner in extra time at the end of the first half.

The Crew had its fair share of chances offensively, especially in the first half.

The Crew held possession for nearly three-fourths of the first 45 minutes, consistently pushing their highly-efficient offense — connecting on more than 90% of their pass attempts— with 12 shots and five shots on goal, including two by Hernandez.

While recording six shots in the first half, much of the Union’s offense was squashed by defenders Rudy Camacho and Malte Amundsen, quickly moving the ball back into the flow of the Crew’s offense.

Schulte credits the defensive success to the Crew's "rest defense," responding to the offensive approach the team knew the Union would play.

"We talked a lot about it, especially with a team like Philadelphia, you know they can transition and score goals right away," Schulte said. "So it was just really trying to work on our press and keep them locked in. When we turned the ball over, have guys — three, four guys — around the ball and put pressure on them and try and play them behind with Rudy and Malte and (Steven Moreira)."

The Crew started its season with a 4-1 loss to the Union on the road.

The Crew have not lost at Field since their 2-1 loss to Miami April 29.

And to Ramirez, with two playoff teams facing off with three games left in the regular season, the Crew faced a preview of what is coming quickly.

"I think it’s a good taste, a little taste of what it could be," Ramirez said.

The Crew will travel to Massachusetts Wednesday to take on the New England Revolution at 7:30 p.m.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Crew ties Philadelphia Union after Cucho Hernandez penalty