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Columbus Crew Seeking Forward Production

The Crew forwards have seen little deposited into their scoring bank this year and it is is having an effect on results.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew offense began the season like a house on fire. Over the first three games, the Crew scored 7 goals on their way to three straight wins, the best start in team history.

Since then, the well has begun to dry up.

Columbus has scored just two goals in their last three games, including a shutout in their only loss of the year.

So where has the production gone? Head Coach Gregg Berhalter believes it has to do with the way teams are defending his club after their dominant start to the season.

"I think it's a little bit of how we're being played now," he said when asked about the recent scoring struggles.

"Teams have made a real effort to get back, get behind the ball, stay compact and it becomes difficult exercise for us. Now it's about precision and speed of ball movement and good runs. It's hard... Whenever teams get nine guys behind the ball, it becomes a difficult exercise."

It began in the 2-0 loss to Toronto FC where the Reds scored 11 minutes into the match and sat back, allowing the Black and Gold to play their possession game in front of them but not get good looks on net.

The San Jose Earthquakes pushed a bit more the following week at home, but still absorbed a lot of the Crew's pressure to help earn the 1-1 draw. D.C. United employed a similar tactic, scoring on a first half counter attack and then getting men behind the ball for the remainder of the match.

"Going a goal down, what are teams going to do?" Berhalter asked after the United match.

"We're going to be talking about this a lot this year. They're going to drop back, stay very compact, and it's honestly difficult to break down."

In order to do defeat these tactics, Berhalter believes the team must move the ball quicker, but they also need to get production from their front men.

Of the true forwards on the Columbus roster - not counting the constantly shifting Federico Higuain - only Jairo Arrieta has scored this season.

After starting the first two games of the year, Arrieta was moved to the bench in favor of Dominic Oduro's speed on the Seattle turf. The Crew have played on grass all of the following games and Oduro has remained the starter.

Assistant Coach Josh Wolff, who works with the attackers, said this is a week-by-week decision.

"Most of that is around Gregg's decisions and what we talk about as a staff, but the ultimate decision would be Gregg's," Wolff said this week.

"From week to week the game changes, the opponent changes, their tactics, their ideas and certainly the beginning of the year, we knew we'd miss Dom and Jairo did well. We've got competition up top and that's a good thing to have within your group."

Wolff said the three primary forward options - Arrieta, Oduro, and rookie Adam Bedell - each add a different dynamic for the Black and Gold.

"I think they all bring something different," he said. "Dom's pace, we try and utilize that when we can and his movement in being dangerous in and around the box but behind the line.

"Jario's a little more physical and probably a little more clever around the edge of the box. He has a good connection with Hector and Pipa... Adam's a big guy and finding a way for him to get on the field more and now utilizing his size and his presence is something we've enjoyed through preseason and even as you work with him today, you see the progress coming."

Both Berhalter and Wolff believe in the talent of their strikers and that the goals will come as they continue to work and get comfortable in the system.

"These guys have had success, they've scored goals," Wolff said.

"It's more about continuing to encourage them. Give them a few more ideas just as far as things they could be a little bit better on... I know those guys have goals in them. It's just a matter of giving them the opportunity and them taking them."

Although the Crew have only lost once this season, they have dropped points in three consecutive matches. As Berhalter pointed out, allowing teams to score the first goal makes it easier for them to defend Columbus, which means the Black and Gold need to strike first.

The entire team is responsible for creating good chances and scoring, but the finishing ultimately falls on the shoulders of the forward. As Wolff put it, that's the life of a striker.

"It's life as a forward sometimes," he said. "It can be a little streaky, it can be a little frustrating, but it can also be very rewarding on the other side of it."

Everyone involved with the Crew hopes they start reaping these rewards soon.