The most glaring number in the Union’s 2-1 loss to Columbus on Sunday wasn’t two, the number of goals Joe Bendik let in with subpar goalkeeping.
It was 22, the number of shots the Union took. That total was the team’s second-highest of the season, behind only the 25 it took in the 5-0 drubbing of Toronto.
Yes, Columbus goalkeeper Eloy Room did a better impression of Andre Blake than Bendik did, making eight saves — and many of them were sensational. But the only Union shot that went in the net was Jamiro Monteiro’s penalty kick.
Again: The Union took 22 shots in the game, and the only one that went in the net was a penalty kick. No team should be excused from that, no matter who its goalkeeper is. And as Monteiro said afterward, the players all knew it.
This isn’t to excuse Bendik’s errors. He did not play well, and he must do better if the Union are to beat New England yet again Sunday in the teams' fifth meeting this year. But it might serve further notice to Blake’s critics — yes, he has them — of how good he truly is, and how often he has bailed the Union out in his great career.
It’s also a reminder of something that’s as true right now as it was Sunday morning: The Union entered the weekend having two chances to get the one win they needed to claim the Supporters' Shield.
Perhaps two is the most important number in this analysis after all.
Here’s a look at some other notable performances in the game.
He was once again quite good as a stand-in defensive midfielder: 58 touches, four interceptions, one tackle, one aerial duel won, three shots, and 35-of-44 passing. But this can’t go on forever. If Jose Andres Martinez clears COVID-19 testing this week, he’ll be back for Sunday’s regular-season finale against New England. If not, Warren Creavalle is healthy enough now to play, and he’ll be needed.
The point was crystalized on Artur’s opening goal for Columbus. Elliott was one of a lot of people at fault, to be clear: Monteiro got beaten twice, Kai Wagner was caught ball-watching, and Elliott figured he was too far from the play. But when you look at how the Union’s defense was aligned in the buildup, you figure that an instinctively aggressive ballhawk like Martinez would have run over to close down Artur.
His first-half shot that Room just barely tipped off a post deserved to be a goal, not just for the attacking thrust but for the terrific passing buildup that preceded it.
Beyond that, though, Ray Gaddis’ critics are running out of ammunition. Mbaizo had one tackle, two clearances and one clearance, but Columbus' left-sided players launched six crosses and completed a slew of passes on the ground on the left wing of their attacking third, the space that was Mbaizo’s to defend.
Mbaizo was directly responsible for a Crew scoring chance in the 52nd minute that was halted only by Bendik’s biggest save of the game. As Darlington Nagbe brought the ball up the field, Mbaizo had to decide whether to press Nagbe or mark Milton Valenzuela wide on the left. He chose too late, which not only allowed Valenzeula to get the ball and dribble past Brenden Aaronson, it left Pedro Santos wide to run forward and receive a pass that Valenzuela sent behind Mbaizo. Fortunately, Bendik and Mark McKenzie teamed up to stop Santos' cross and send it out of bounds.
The Union’s central midfielders put the team on their backs for a lot of this game, and there were stretches when Monteiro nearly won it single-handedly. He had 78 touches, four shots, two chances created, two tackles and one clearance, and completed a team-leading 43 of 48 passes.
He was also excellent: 71 touches, four shots, two chances created, four interceptions, three aerial duels won, one tackle, one clearance, 40-of-48 passing, and one almighty slam of the turf in the 58th minute when Room denied Santos from just off the goal line.