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Crew SC had a new look on Saturday. Could that mean a new light?

Gregg Berhalter’s squad rotation shook things up while Trapp's injury forced more change. How the offensive tweaks against San Jose worked and what that means to close out the season.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Columbus Crew SC Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Personnel and Match Notes

Starting the match without Federico Higuain and Ola Kamara, the forefront of the Columbus Crew SC attack had a very different look. Adam Jahn grabbed his first start up top and Tony Tchani was a surprise inclusion at the attacking midfield role. Very different in style than Higuain, Tchani was asked to perform the same role but clearly his impact will always be different than the Argentine in that position. His run as attacking midfielder would not last long, as Wil Trapp picked up an injury early.

Wil Trapp Injured

Going in for an aerial challenge inside 10 minutes, Wil Trapp knocked heads with former Crew defender Shaun Francis. The Crew vice-captain immediately headed to the locker room, and upon being evaluated it was determined that he had suffered another concussion.

While we wait for details into the extent of the injury, my heart bleeds for the man. He has been riddled with concussive injuries during his short playing career. Without Trapp in the coming weeks there are going to be even more question marks in the team.

It is likely Saeid will replace Wil and play next to Tony Tchani, but with international matches coming up, Saeid’s partner is uncertain. This match gave us a new look at the Crew, so that could be a glimpse of what is to come.

Duka on for Trapp

With the Trapp injury, Dilly Duka came on as an early and unexpected substitute. Lacking Higuain in the eighteen, Duka was selected and assumed Tchani’s role as the #10 with the Cameroon international dropping back in Trapp’s role. Duka’s playing style is certainly more similar to Higuain’s than Tchani is and he provided the the team with a very mobile option in the center of the pitch behind Jahn.

A Few Notes on Jahn

Formerly of the San Jose Earthquakes, I can imagine Jahn had an extra dose of incentive to perform in this match. Having loaned him out repeatedly to their USL affiliate Sacrament, Jahn has found himself once again starting for a MLS team.

A very different profile from his counterpart Ola Kamara, Jahn provides the team with an aerial game in front and a stern defensive hold on the front line. To stick a label to him, I would call him a “defensive forward” or a “target man”. His large stature and playing style is very different from that of Ola’s. Where Kamara likes to use his speed and athleticism to make plays, Jahn has uses his immense work ethic and greater defensive understanding to aide on both sides of the ball.

Greater Positional Flexibility

Part personnel, part strategic, in this match the team was less static than previous. Perhaps it is Gregg allowing greater creative flexibility from his players, perhaps it is the players feeling they need an extra edge, but the movement in the final third was more dynamic than any other match this season.

Organization remained largely the same but players actively swapped with each other, which is how we got the first goal of the match. With Meram and Finlay briefly switching, Meram was able to attack the Quakes’ left back with a different style than Finlay, leading to the brilliant cross to the back post.

While offensively there was some freedom in play, the defensive end remained very much the same. Several times during the match the defense got put under immense pressure due to the outside midfielders being far behind the play. While the offensive phase is highly dynamic, the defensive phase is very static. This has caused issues in unison with the offense during transitions into the defensive phase throughout Berhalter’s tenure.

Changes down the stretch: Thoughts

I think that defensive positional switching needs to be made as the lack of it has lead to a barrage of issues this year. With the wingbacks high up the field, at times in front of the wingers, it is illogical for the wingbacks to track back deeper behind the wingers in every instance. In these scenarios, Trapp or Tchani could fill in on the defensive line to promote defensive solidity. This tactic is used in high level play across Europe and is seen as a proven way to defend with a possession-based team.

Personnel wise I thought Jahn did very well, notably so on the defensive side. While offensively he missed a few chances, defensively he allowed the team to put quality pressure on the San Jose back line, something that Ola has lacked. While I am not advocating for Jahn to start over Ola, I think that a two striker system would be viable with both Jahn and Ola. Otherwise, Jahn should be inserted at the end of matches when the team is trying to protect a lead as his defensive impact is far greater than Ola’s.

In Summation

While there were no major changes in the way the Crew plays on Saturday, the personnel on the against San Jose helped to facilitate a different look on the field, that could be used as a baseline closing out the year.

With a host of absent players due to international duties and injuries this coming weekend, expect some of these changes to carry over to the match in Los Angeles. Gaston Sauro may even be fit. But who will start? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.

You can view the list of players that will miss Saturday’s match [here].

Tune in later in the week for some updates on who we think will grab the start on Saturday.

Until then, stay Massive, friends.