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Preview: Columbus Crew SC need a win against Montreal Impact

Down 2-1, is it a case that next goal wins?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s second leg decider is a tale of two Crew SC teams. Which one will show up today. The one that has an offense that ran roughshod over defenses all year or the team that struggled to stop even average offenses? Given that they need a win against a team they are 0 for against in 2015, they need the one with solid defense and scores in volume.

The Offense

During leg one, the Crew SC offense was neutralized during long stretches of the game. Montreal was content to let Columbus play wide and clean up any crosses in. They double teamed Kei Kamara and pushed Federico Higuain deeper. There was no real way to build up through the middle. It was a game plan that suited the Impact. Now Crew SC will have to create and can’t rely on looking wide in hopes of getting the ball centrally. Montreal has the personnel to handle simple crosses.

Columbus needs to get those key pieces back involved. Kamara can’t be isolated and Higuain can’t be collapsed and cut off. Higuain appeared to be dribbling into danger without an outlet while Kamara was left to take down long balls. Fixing this will take a couple different shifts. Justin Meram needs to be available to link up with both players on the left while the direct options have to be available on the right. This may mean Crew SC plays narrower than normal, but that will only create space wide when Montreal plays narrower.

The Defense

On defense, Columbus has to avoid the two glaring weaknesses that have plagued them all season, set piece defense and poor turnovers along the backline. The Impact looked dangerous on attacking set pieces, scoring once and creating several dangerous chances. Steve Clark struggles with balls into the box and physical players like Kamara and Tony Tchani are subpar when tasked for defense. It’s another thing that Gaston Sauro’s presence is magically expected to fix.

Realistically, it’s too late in the season to truly fix the set piece defense so today should be a case of risk reduction. Crew SC needs to limit those set piece chances. Giving up corners and free kicks carry more danger than other teams given their history. That means a slightly different attitude on defense. It’s also unrealistic to change how the defense will handle these situations, so ultimately Crew SC are left with two options. Hope and pray.

The other issue, soft goals. Yes, Michael Parkhurst may have been fouled on the second Montreal goal, but he was also on an island. He took a ball, played a poor touch, and was immediately under pressure with few good options for an outlet. The closest player was 20 yards away.

Again, Crew SC won’t be scrapping Berhalter’s plan, so that means wide spacing and trying to push up numbers. Without a shift in plan, the back line needs to shift that risk analysis. A poor giveaway that turns into a goal doesn’t have the same impact when it happens in July, but a cheap Montreal goal could end the season. Passing back to players under pressure isn’t key to creating goal scoring opportunities. It’s far more likely to create high leverage defensive mistakes.

What will happen

Forget what I said on defense. Crew SC are unlikely to shift mindset or system by now, so the defense remains a ticking bomb. Those problems are prone to creeping up with every foul in the defensive third or cheap giveaway at midfield. There’s more hope on offense, where Columbus has shown they can cut through even the best defenses. Montreal will pack tight which means that there likely won’t be a high press. Crew SC will have to be patient, switch fields aggressively, and resist the desire to push the ball wide and dump it into the penalty area. If Crew SC grab that first goal, then the game changes entirely. It will open up. Without that goal, Montreal will continue to choke out the game. Next goal wins?