Columbus Crew SC fell 2-1 to the Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last Sunday. Lost in the Didier Drogba leg grab sideshow, is that the offense sputtered. They did grab the vital away goal, but they only tallied six shots on goal. The sputtering offense wasn't helped by the lackluster performances of Designated Player Federico Higuain and MLS MVP finalist Kei Kamara.
Higuain did score off a defensive error. He made one of the few chances in the game count, but he struggled in possession and was often too far away from goal to be a serious offensive threat. Here is his passing chart from last Sunday.
It's not a bad chart on the surface, but it shows some significant problems. Higuain connects on a decent percentage of his passes on the evening and his misses look like aggressive through balls or diagonals. The problem however is where most of that passing takes place.
Higuain is connecting quite a few passes in the Crew SC half of the field. They are short connecting passes that aren't indicative of successful offensive buildup. It appears to be more born out of frustration of not getting touches in dangerous spaces. Higuain is dropping back to get the ball 60 yards from goal.
Even when Higuain gets the ball in the Black & Gold's attacking half of the field, it's still not in dangerous spots. He has a handful of passes from the middle of the field, but often he's forced to go wide to either side in an attempt to play an attacking pass. He had no passes inside the 18-yard box and that extended five yards past the box in all directions. He's not going to make an impact passing when he's not in a dangerous position to begin with.
Looking further, Higuain's dangerous passes were long diagonals from deep or through balls from wide. The first type of pass is normally where Wil Trapp operates, duplicating that role. The second type of pass only marginally improves Crew SC's offensive prospects. These aren't balls into the box.
Higuain can't be effective when he's forced deep or wide to make a play. He needs to be playing in the attacking half of the field where his passes end up in the 18-yard box. He can't repeat last Sunday's performance for Columbus to had success in leg two.
Kamara also struggled mightily against the Impact's imposing defense. If Higuain's passing map showed how he couldn't get the ball into dangerous spots; Kamara's passing chart shows how he was starved of service in dangerous spots.
Kamara had a single pass inside the 18-yard box and most of his passes came far away from dangerous spots. Crew SC could only link up with the league's top scorer in spots where he couldn't hurt Montreal. Additionally, Kamara's only shot came from outside the box. It wasn't a high percentage attempt.
Columbus was lucky given the offensive performance from Kamara and Higuain. The Impact neutralized the big offensive threats and only gave up a single good chance. Columbus will need to get into dangerous spots on the field more consistently for the offense to come back from a goal deficit or their losing streak in playoff series will extend to five.