As Good As It Gets

Augustin Viana, Columbus Crew

The Crew weren't able to record a shot a single shot on goal against a slow start Fire team last weekend. The possibility exists that it's a random event but, taking into account deteriorating results, it is more likely the Crew have some tactical issues to work out.

Six of the eleven regular Crew starters are not going to provide anything, in terms of production, on the offensive side of the field outside of a set piece.

Chad Marshall, Glauber, Tyson Wahl, Danny O’Rourke, Augustin Viana and Andy Gruenebuam. These are the players in the Columbus Crew starting lineup that aren’t likely to contribute a goal or an assist on a regular basis. No surprise here. Sure, they might get an assist here or there and maybe Marshall or Glauber knock in a header or two off a set piece but during open play, they are defensive players with little intention of directly contributing to goals. Nor do their histories point to such.

Josh Williams and Ben Speas are what some might call wildcards. Josh already has two goals and looks thirsty for more. Ben has a Goal and an Assist in just a handful of games. But is this a reliable source of offensive productivity?

Eddie Gaven, Federico Higuain, Dominic Oduro (Jairo Arrieta). This is where the Crew are expecting to get the most production in terms of goals but, yet again the question; Are there enough goals with these three players or these three positions in the current Crew tactical formation to make the playoffs?

Last year the lowest scoring team to make the playoffs was Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC with a rather meager 42 goals. That works out to be about 1.24 Goals per Game. That’s pretty low, but that is how Vermes plays it. KC only allowed 0.79 Goals against last year. Best in the league. This year’s Crew will not achieve that mark, so cross that out as a way to work into the 2013 MLS playoffs.

What the Crew are shaping up to be is exactly what they were last year. 1.29 Goals For per Game and about the same against. That works out to be 44 goals by the end of the year. Outside of Vermes’ KC (an outlier), in order to make the playoffs a MLS club will have to put up at least 46 goals to make the playoffs. 50 would be even better.

With the current Crew lineup, is that possible? Meaning, from a strictly simple mathematical perspective can Gaven, Higuain, Oduro and a benched Arrieta combine for 30-40 goals and the rest of the team make up the rest?

Right now this group (Gaven, Higuain, Oduro, Arrieta) has 5 goals in 7 games, or 0.71 Goals per Game. That works out to be around 24 total goals on the year. It’s not enough in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Just not enough. What this means is that the rest of the team, in defensive roles, would have to contribute somewhere in the range of 25 more goals.

Considering the fact that only Josh Williams and Ben Speas are the ones currently (remotely) able to put something in the back of the net... The Crew have a problem. Not enough attacking threats. Or at the very least, players that have the appropriate skill to get a shot on goal.

Last Saturday the Crew took on a desperate, but talented, Chicago Fire team. Columbus recorded exactly zero shots on goal last weekend. Zero. Going back into the archives it’s been at least seven years since that has happened (if ever, I stopped researching once I got back to 2006).

There was a succinct passage of play for the Crew this past weekend at around the 26th minute. Let’s pick it up there (video at bottom of post, or here)...



After Chicago wasted a corner, Crew ‘keeper Andy Gruenebuam lines up to take the Goal Kick.



It lands atop the head of MLS veteran Jeff Larentowicz who simply heads it back into the Crew half.



From there, Tyson Wahl gathers it up and looks forward for Federico Higuain (double teamed, of course).



Wahl placed it beautifully to (a double teamed) Higuain, who promptly charged toward the middle of the field and switched the point of attack to the far right side to an awaiting Josh Williams (by-passing a central Ben Speas).



The pass is perfect, right on the money. Williams gathers and does exactly what we’ve come to expect from him. After a pass back to Higuain, who has moved towards the ball, Williams get’s it back and tries to make something happen in a crowd of now swarming Fire players.



The ball pops out to an in position Danny O’Rourke who plays the ball over the top to an attacking Higuain.



Higuain drives towards the end line trying to buy some time for other Crew players (Gaven and Speas) to get into the box. The Fire are a mess.



Higuain tries to force the ball into a double teamed Oduro. In hindsight, he might have been better off playing it to Speas or Gaven, but still, not a bad choice going into the six yard box. The Fire are able to intercept and the ball bounces out past the 18 yd box...



Up until this point, everything has gone right for the Crew. Great play in the midfield and all attacking players the team has are in the box and the Fire are are all over the place. The deflection falls to Viana who lines up the shot on his strong foot.



Viana fires it wide. Way wide. It could have been the fact he took studs to the ankle a few minutes earlier (as Matt Fulks pointed out to me on Twitter) but even if fully healthy there are only a couple players in the league that can hit that ball on frame from that far out. Let alone anyone on the Crew (maybe Anor?).

The above sequence of events was telling. What happened in these few seconds of play was as good as this Crew team (in this formation/lineup) gets, true believers. This is it.

There will be some spectacular random events, like Oduro’s goal in Montreal or Higuain’s in LA, but as far as run of play goals? What you see above is everything this current lineup has.

The Crew are limiting themselves with this current lineup. After nearly a decade of professional soccer Augustin Viana and Danny O’Rourke don’t all the sudden become attacking threats. Eddie Gaven doesn’t turn into a 10 goal, 10 assist man and 2nd year man Ben Speas isn’t going do that either.

What the Crew have done is put everything on Higuain. It’s his job to be everything and be everywhere. Doesn’t matter if it is Oduro or Arrieta; with only one in front of him it’s not going to work well enough to get the Crew into the Major League Soccer Playoffs.

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