With the season in the balance, Columbus Crew SC smashed rival Chicago Fire in the final game of the season at MAPFRE Stadium.
Here are a few thoughts about the game.
The apple of my eye
You’re tired of me preaching the importance of the counter attack, and how buoying it has been to see it become a bigger part of the Black & Gold approach during the last month. But I’m going to do it again.
Columbus did not hold as much possession as anticipated (even though they still dominated the game in terms of just about everything). But you don’t need to when you can take advantage of an explosive play down the field to catch the defense out of shape.
And a great ball by Mohammed Saeid.
That was a counter attack that will make @kamikazepilot42 proud.— Patrick Murphy (@_Pat_Murphy) October 2, 2016
Why, yes. Yes it was.
Columbus managed just 12 shots in the game — not the type of output that typically generates three goals. Especially when those three goals came on just four shots on target.
So how did a team that for long stretches of the season seemed to underachieve when it came to turning shots into goals? Part of it is poor defense by Chicago (see Justin Meram’s goal). Part of it is generating higher-odds chances, like the counter attack goal. Part of it is luck, like on Harrison Afful’s strike.
For much of the season there was a sense that the club was a big unlucky as far as the amount of chances generated and the lack of goals that were a product of that. That goal are the scales tipping the other way a little bit.
That’s a shot that doesn’t go in nine out of 10 times, but it did this time, and it gave Crew SC the critical first goal. With the season in the balance, it will take more “luck” like this to keep hope alive.
...Harrison Afful. The guy has been integral to Columbus’ attack, but the right back was truly ever present against the Fire. He had 84 passes, which is pretty absurd for a right back and more than 20 more than the next closest member of Crew SC. He matched the team-high with three shots. Chicago left him too much room to operate, and he took advantage. It was a game that suited him to a ‘T,’ as he was freed up to mostly worry about attacking.
Oddly enough, Chicago started with David Accam on the left wing and Luis Solignac on the right, but the two actually swapped sides in terms of where the majority of their touches were made. This only helped Afful get into an attacking rhythm, as he was less frequently kept honest by the speed of his Ghanain foe (and friend).
The clean sheet
Chicago had two good opportunities on the day — one was stopped by Steve Clark, and the other was flubbed by a wide-open Luis Solignac from about eight to 10 yards out. That was about it.
The Fire’s lack of threat was a combination of its own deep-lying approach and a solid team defensive game by Crew SC. But probably mostly its own failures.
Chicago’s heat map shows just how hemmed in it was.
It never used its width to for any purpose, and rarely got into the attacking third. On a day in which Chicago tallied about 150 more passes than usual, it did nothing with them.
With Chicago not pressuring up the field much, Columbus had all day to build out of the back when it got the ball (read: no nervy moments with the ball at Clark’s feet). The Fire also did not do a great job of defending the area entering its own third of the field, leaving the Black & Gold with a lot of space. That was apparent on both Afful’s and Meram’s goals.
Here’s Crew SC’s heat map:
See the green in Chicago’s 18-yard box on the right side? Yeah, if you’re a defense, you don’t ever want to see green in your own area. That’s a result of a lot of touches inside the 18, and that came about because Columbus had the space to get the ball there.
If you don’t defend high up the field and you don’t defend deep, well, then, where are you defending? And so Crew SC feasted for three goals.
Adding meaning to another week(s)
There’s no sugar coating things — it would take a not-so-minor miracle for Columbus to make the postseason. The playoff odds for the Black & Gold currently sit at 0.5 percent. That’s ... not good.
Even by winning out, Crew SC needs help. But all it can control is itself. For one more week, it controlled its own results.
Columbus now gets a week to rest before traveling north to face Chicago again. It will be a different game on the road, but the Fire are not very good and, for what it’s worth, Crew SC is playing as well as it has all season.
It will be a must-win scenario, but for two more weeks the next game means something.