With no game this weekend in Major League Soccer, those who aren't on international duty for Columbus Crew SC took part in a scrimmage Friday morning against USL affiliate the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
For the first half, the Black & Gold used a new 3-5-2 formation that featured both Kei Kamara and Ola Kamara, no relation.
Columbus scored early, after just eight minutes, with Ola holding up the ball just outside the Pittsburgh 18-yard box. Hector Jimenez made an overlapping run into the box and Kamara fed a nice through ball. Jimenez either hit a shot that was deflected or played the ball across (hard to see from where we sat), but Kei was there to finish it off for the 1-0 advantage.
Before the first half was 20 minutes old, Ola was replaced by Justin Meram. It appeared that the forward was indicating to the bench that he need to come out a few minutes previous, although he was moving freely. He ended up leaving the field and going to the locker room before Meram was ready to enter, so Crew SC played down a man temporarily.
In the 20th minute, the Riverhounds sprung on the Black & Gold and got in behind the three-man back line. The forward on the end of the ball was taken down in the box by Tarek and a penalty kick was awarded. The shot wasn't bad, but Brad Stuver dove to his right and made the save to keep the shutout intact early.
The second half featured a slight different lineup and a return to the traditional 4-5-1 formation.
Crew SC continued to dominate much of the game, although Pittsburgh did get in behind the back line a few times. Once, goalkeeper Steve Clark had to come well off his line to clear a ball down the attacking left side. Another series of good passes from the Riverhounds led to a shot that beat Clark but hit the post and was saved.
With that said, Columbus looked comfortable and the result rarely seemed in doubt. The Black & Gold were rewarded in the 68th minute when Meram got free on the right wing and and played a cross on the ground to Cedrick Mabwati. The winger had an easy finish into the net as the goalkeeper scrambled to recover but could not.
Rookie Marshall Hollingsworth is on loan with Pittsburgh and played in this match. Despite playing outside back most of preseason for Crew SC, he played on the left wing for the Riverhounds.
Notes from the Match
- As is the case in most 3-5-2 formations, the wingers -- Corey Ashe and Hector Jimenez -- dropped back to form a five-man back line when Pittsburgh came forward. Jimenez filled in on the right frequently with the back line shifting over to play as four as well.
- Amro Tarek looks like the real deal. As I noted against Notre Dame, he is big and physical and good with the ball at his feet. Although he gave away the penalty kick, it was a smart play (though in a league match he would have been red carded) and Brad Stuver made the save. The defender must certainly be pushing for time.
- On the 3-5-2 overall, I thought it was an interesting change. I think it's a nice look to play with two true forwards and still have a creative player, in this case Emil Larsen, underneath with cover behind him. As head coach Gregg Berhalter pointed out (see below) it doesn't change too much in terms of shape from the way Crew SC typically play.
- We've only seen a few minutes out of Ola Kamara, but he looks to be a good player. In the two matches I've watched him play, he's registered two assists and looks good on the ball as well. If he gets healthy, I think he can add another dynamic off the bench if needed.
- Corey Ashe as a winger is interesting. He looked comfortable there, having played that in college, and also knows what to do defensively. If the 3-5-2 ever becomes a thing (don't count on it), he would be a good option on the left.
- Ben Swanson, who is actually on loan with the Riverhounds, looked good in the midfield. It seems being with a team where he knows he might get some minutes has given him confidence. He looked good, as did Mohammed Saeid in the center of the park.
- Marshall Hollingsworth didn't do too much for Pittsburgh today. He tracked back well, which he had to do frequently, but didn't have too many chances offensively.
Conversation with Berhalter
- The head coach said the purpose of this match was to get guys who hadn't played much some minutes and keep the regular players in rhythm.
- Berhalter said the 3-5-2 formation in the first half was largely due to the personnel the team had available. He said it doesn't change much in terms of the buildup shape from normal, calling it a variation on how the Black & Gold typically play.
- On Ben Swanson, Berhalter said he thought he did "alright" and that it was good for him to get 90 minutes. The youngster is doing well in Pittsburgh and Berhalter said it's about competing for him and putting himself in position to play games.
- Berhalter said there could be more friendlies with the Riverhounds in the future, but it will depend on each team's schedule.
- On his recent trip to Brazil, Berhalter said it was a good opportunity to maintain relationships with clubs down there and see the landscape in that country. He wouldn't share any of the clubs he met with, but called it a learning experience.
- Berhalter commented on the amount of soccer players they have in Brazil. He said some clubs have 50 first-team players while having 40 players in the academy that are all virtually the same level.
- On Ola Kamara, Berhalter said he was going to check on him after the forward left the scrimmage early. Said he thought aggravated his injury but he would be alright.