Columbus Crew Preview: Forwards

Jamie Sabau

Can the Crew forwards raise their production in 2014?

Normally when a soccer team is successful, the forwards are a big part of the success. A team that scores goals has more of a chance of being successful than one that struggles to finish, even with a stout defense.

The strikers get the glory when the goals are flowing but when the well dries up, they receive the heavy criticism.

The Columbus Crew and head coach Gregg Berhalter will be looking for consistent production from their two front men. As Nate Beckman pointed out in December, a successful attack for an MLS team is 50 goals and that's where Berhalter will want to be this year at the minimum.

If the forwards can generate most of that production, Columbus should be in a good position by the season's end.

Last Year

In 2013 the Crew was right in the middle of the pack for goals scored. Out of the 42 finished, forwards scored 30 of those, though this number is actually lower due to players playing other positions.

Dominic Oduro was Columbus' leading scorer last season with 13 goals, but he split time between forward and outside midfielder and provided an impact from both. Federico Higuain scored 11 goals, but only five of them came from the run of play. The remainder came from the penalty spot, where Higuain was six-for-eight on the year.

Jairo Arrieta, who scored nine goals in 18 games in 2012, managed just three goals in 26 appearances in his second season with the Black and Gold. Arrieta found the net on just over 4% of his shots and 16% of his shots on goal.

Aaron Schoenfeld and Ryan Finley each added one goal and one assist in limited action, as did Justin Meram who played in multiple positions throughout the season.

What Has Changed

Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta's numbers (33 to 10 and 25 to 19). This is the position that has changed the least from 2013 to this year.

The Crew returns 100% of the goals from their forwards, which could be good or bad news as they seek more production.

What will be different is the philosophy. As mentioned with other positions, Berhalter wants to be a more attacking team. He wants his players to possess and control the ball in the attacking half and this may mean more involvement for the forwards.

This has to be music to their ears because the more opportunities they get, the more likely the boys up top are to score, though as Nathan Smith discovered, for some players that may not be the case.

A more attacking style should help these players produce on a more regular basis, assuming the attacking style creates the chances expected.

The only new addition to the Columbus front line is rookie Adam Bedell. The 6'7" forward is the tallest player on the team and could add a different dynamic up top if he earns a place in the lineup.

What To Expect This Season

If things go the way Berhalter plans, and that is still yet to be seen, this offense should be more successful than last year's. Former head coach Robert Warzycha preferred a more conservative approach, thus resulting in fewer goals.

As stated above, increased opportunities does not always lead to more goals. The forwards still need to put themselves in position to score and capitalize when they get their chances. Jario Arrieta struggled with that last year and Federico Higuain's numbers were inflated due to set pieces.

Dominic Oduro was the most dependable scorer last season and is expected to carry a significant portion of the load this season. Berhalter recently said that the Ghanaian is a big part of this team's plans, yet Oduro has struggled to put together back-to-back productive seasons in the scoring department.

This is the area of the team where there are the most questions despite the returning players. Any time an offense brings back 100% of its production, the expectations should be high but when the production level needs to be raised to achieve more team success, issues may emerge.

Prediction

There will be more offense this year from the forwards than last year.

Oduro is likely to start the season on the outside of midfield, but he demonstrated he could produce from either position last year.

Arrieta is searching for the form from 2012 that eluded him all of last season. He hopes that new coach and new contract will be the missing ingredient, but only time will tell.

These two are likely to balance each other out. Oduro's production may drop after a career year in 2013 and odds are in favor of Arrieta to improve on the three goals he bagged last season. What the Crew need is for their total production to be better than what it was a year ago - a combined 16 goals - to really have a shot to return to the MLS playoffs.

Higuain is generally brilliant, but if he can score more from the run of play, that will help alleviate pressure on his teammates. Despite playing up top, Higuain is the creator on this team and he would love to get double digit assists this year as well. If he is assisting, someone is scoring, so he can help the offense in multiple ways.

With Berhalter in charge, it is tough to think the offense won't improve just because of the team's new mentality. Players seem to have bought in to what the new coach is selling, which should help on the attacking end specifically.

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