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Small Changes As the Bliss Era Begins

The lineup was tweaked and the tactics remain essentially the same. How did the Crew coast to a 2-0 victory against Houston.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Crew looked unencumbered in their first game under Brian Bliss. The team had looked moribund in their last two games, both uninspired losses, but even after short rest Columbus played with a new energy. Some of that comes down to the individual performances on the field, but naturally some will be attributed to the new man in charge.

Bliss, in his post game comments, talked about not having time to set tactics. That takes drilling and repetition. However, the coach can set the mentality. Former coach Robert Warzycha and Bliss do differ in that mentality, but the key difference may be in how to handle mistakes. Warzycha focused on cutting down mistakes. Bliss appears to have a different take; mistakes happen and you better rebound.

Several players got a chance to start against Houston after seeing limited playing time this year. Eric Gehrig got his first start since June 5th. Ethan Finlay put in 81 minutes in his first start of the year. Ryan Finley earned his second consecutive start. The message is clear, mistakes of the past are in the past.

Bliss also talked repeatedly about attacking quicker. This can be taken as shorthand for more direct play, but in practicality it lead to more aggressiveness in the final third. Justin Meram seemed especially charged as he looked to slash towards goal or make the quick pass. He did score a well taken goal, but he also completed 38 of 48 passes on Wednesday. It sharp jump in quantity and quality from Saturday when he completed 23 of 40.

The Crew attack was much more incisive in it's shot selection on Wednesday as well. Columbus put 8 of their 20 shots on frame. Against the Sounders, only 2 of 24 tested the goalkeeper. Part of that improved shot selection comes from how the goals were built up. The Crew played more through the middle, only attempting 14 crosses compared to 24 against the Sounders.

One game isn't a significant dataset and this analysis has ignored the key difference between Wednesday and last Saturday. The Crew didn't have to play from behind against the Dynamo. The real test for Bliss's philosophy will come when Columbus needs a goal. Will they dump the ball into the box or look to continue with their slashing attacks. Saturday's game against Kansas City may present that exact test.