Defense may win championships, or so they say, but offense delights fans and brings them to games. Considering the Columbus Crew are currently 15th in attendance, they may want to figure out how to generate more offense and put the ball in the net.
The Crew are currently tied for tenth in goals in MLS with 23 on the season, but have only managed to score more than once twice since the beginning of June, the last seven games. The Black and Gold are also 16th in assists with 15, which could point to a lack of cohesion in the offensive third.
This is a team that is ninth in shots and tenth in shots on goal, so there are some chances being created, but they are still at best middle of the road offensively.
What has been the problem with a team that seemed to find an offensive spark last year? There are many different things that could be pointed to, but those up front are ultimately blamed, as they are given credit when the goals are flowing.
Head coach Robert Warzycha has used multiple looks this season offensively. The year began with two forwards, one playing high as a number nine and one underneath in the traditional number 10 role. Jairo Arrieta was the furthest forward to start the year and Federico Higuain was the playmaker in behind him. At times Warzycha elected to move Dominic Oduro to the main striker role and that saw some success.
In this formation, the play of the midfield is essential to support the attackers. If Arrieta/Oduro receive the ball with his back to goal, as will likely happen as the most attacking player, they need options to lay the ball off in order to then make runs.
With Higuain roaming to get into positions to create, which he does naturally, it puts more pressure on the midfield to be that support. The man most likely to do this, Eddie Gaven, has been lost for the season. Despite playing wide for Columbus more often than not, Gaven naturally does the little things, including finding the space to support.
With Gaven unavailable, this formation was not as effective. Whoever was up top was being left stranded and it often resulted in a turnover or a shot from long range.
Warzycha looked to make adjustments in order to get his offense going. Recently, the team has used a target striker with two wide forwards/advanced midfielders and an attacking midfielder in behind the striker. This has created a diamond that theoretically should be more offensive because more players are primarily focused on being a part of the attack.
The problem has been that the personnel has not been there for Warzycha. Ideally, he would like for all four of these players be able to rotate through the positions as the game dictates. If the attacking midfielder has to slide wide left, he should be able to play there and the man out wide should be able to provide support in the middle of the park. This allows for fluidity and makes it difficult for defenses to mark effectively.
It would seem that the most ideal setup would be Arrieta, a pure goal scorer when he is on form, up top, with Oduro and probably Speas wide, and Higuain in behind Arrieta. All of these players should be able to rotate through each position and help create a dangerous offense.
Arrieta has missed time on call for Costa Rica and Speas had some minor untimely injuries that have taken him out of the starting lineup. In their place have come Aaron Schoenfeld, whose role should only be as a big target forward, and Bernardo Anor, who was once being considered as a left back. It has made it difficult for the players to interchange positions effectively, as really only Oduro and Higuain have the diversity in their play to do so.
The problem is that every team in the league has to deal with the losses of players and the teams that deal with it the best are the ones that are successful. The Crew have had issues with injuries and national team commitments and are yet to overcome them.
This change in formation has the potential to be successful for Columbus, yet players must be able to make the adjustments necessary. Warzycha is looking for anything to get this team going and save his job. The offense is not the only issue, and it may not even be the main issue, but an improvement there would help this team tremendously.
If this team can find some offensive flow in their game, the goals should start to come. Fans are not happy with the results, but they are also not happy with the play on the field. Right now the Crew are not exciting to watch and they are not getting consistent results. If the offense falls into place, this may solve both problems.