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Columbus Crew SC Will Need its Offense to Come Alive in Leg Two

In order to advance in the playoffs, the Black & Gold needs a better offensive performance than in leg one.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The two-leg, aggregate goal series is foreign to many sports fans. Even those who follow soccer, but don't pay attention to European competitions might find just a two-game series with an away goal tiebreaker a strange concept.

"I think it's hard for post people to understand, but it's not a 90-minute game," Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said. "It's a 180 minute plus game and with away goals counting like they do, you want to position yourself that a win in the home series could get you to the next round."

The Black & Gold did that in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals despite losing 2-1 to the Montreal Impact. Columbus got an away goal courtesy of Federico Higuain and come back to MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday with a good opportunity to advance.

"I think we want to play a better game," Berhalter said this week. "We were happy with the result, not so happy with the performance and I think that says a lot about where this group is at because we feel like we can play even better."

If Crew SC is viewing this as a 180-minute match, this week would be halftime and that is when Berhalter makes adjustments.

With the Black & Gold needing a win and possibly multiple goals to advance, it is on the offense side where improvement is needed.

First, how does Crew SC get Kei Kamara - who was tied for the league lead with 22 goals this season - more involved?

"It's a team effort getting him involved," Berhalter said of his forward. "We need our fullbacks getting forward more, we need more balls put into the box, we need better accuracy on our crosses, and we need good movement by him. If all those things happen, he's going to be dangerous in the next game."

Throughout the season, Kamara demonstrated his athleticism on balls served into the 18-yard box, but the Black & Gold were unable to find him as frequently in Montreal. Crew SC attempted 17 crosses, but only completed 18 percent of those, which is not going to generate many chances for Kamara.

With the way Columbus plays, the outside backs provide the width, and as Berhalter said, fullbacks Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful need to be more involved offensively.

"I think they just need to continue to move up the field and get into deeper positions," Berhalter said of those outside backs.

"I think we were there, but it just needs to happen more frequently and they need to continue moving forward to get deep into their area instead of serving from shallow areas."

It's not just Kamara that needs help getting involved. Winger Ethan Finlay scored 12 goals and had 13 assists, but wasn't a major factor in leg one.

"It's about the timing of his runs," Berhalter said of Finlay. "Guys looking for his movement and then finding him when he makes his runs."

In order to get find these runs, the team needs to improve the spacing.

"I think specifically it's about spacing and that's what's most important in this team," Berhalter said. "When our spacing's good, we're very difficult to get the ball from and we're very difficult to defend. I think at times in the game against Montreal, our spacing was off."

This involves Kamara, Finlay, Justin Meram, Higuain... the entire offensive group. When the Crew SC players are moving and interchanging positions, the defense can't lock on to a position and it's harder to shut down.

Berhalter stated he does not believe a 0-0 score line is likely in this contest, which means the Black & Gold must score. The offense has to be better this week and it sounds like the game plan is ready to go.