Just because the season is all but over doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun, right?
With everything but mathematical elimination out of the way, Columbus Crew SC traveled to Orlando City SC on Saturday and went for a little romp in the park, going up 3-0 by halftime and winning 4-1.
Here are some thoughts about the performance for the Black & Gold.
In the preview, I talked about the importance of a strong start. Crew SC did that, getting a great counter attack in the ninth minute and then a favorable bounce in the 22nd. But you make your breaks, and it was a deserved 2-0 lead.
Both the lead and the energy were there early, and it was the difference for Columbus.
The numbers show that Orlando City had 21 shots, but context is important. The Lions spent more than 45 minutes desperate for goals — 17 shots came from the 23rd minute on, when the hosts were already down 2-0. And of those 21 shots, only eight were on target.
The Black & Gold put in a pretty good defensive effort in a game when it would have been easy to lose focus with a two- or three-goal advantage for most of the match.
Instead, the fullbacks and wingers made good recovery runs and the back line did a good job of pressuring the ball and preventing the entry pass. Especially in the first half, Orlando was forced to settle for crosses or secondary options. Cyle Larin took just one shot on the night, and that was from outside the box (though it was a goal). He was non-existent for much of the game, and that’s a credit to the team’s defensive work.
I’m excited to see how Nicolai Naess affects what Columbus can do moving forward. He’s proven to be a worthy defender, but he’s also as comfortable on the ball as any center back in MLS. That can be a game changer.
It was for the Black & Gold in the 44th minute.
I could watch that pass over and over again.
Naess was playing defensive midfield in this game — not the first time he’s done that he’s done that with recent depth issues for Columbus. He’s also played in a three-man back line. He’s also played center back in a standard four-man defense. And in every role he’s been steady at worst, very good at best.
His versatility and ability to play the ball can free the club up to do some different things, and I’m excited to see how Gregg Berhalter utilizes him next season, when he can be a real building block for how the team is put together.
Destroying the high line
Columbus had four shots in the first half. It scored on three of them. It managed only eight in the game. That’s a 50-percent strike rate.
That worked because the chances were high percentage. And that happened because Crew SC completely roasted Orlando’s high defensive line. Over and over again.
That happened in part because of a willingness to counter, which is something I’ve talked about needing to be a bigger part of Columbus’ arsenal for much of the season.
That’s two passes to go from one 18-yard box to the other (and another great pass from a center back).
So many of the Black & Gold’s chances on Saturday were similar to this.
For all of the positive defensive effort from Columbus, for one moment it did exactly what I cautioned it could not do: gave Larin time around the box.
It was the striker’s only real opportunity of the game, but it showcased exactly why he’s dangerous. The back line was just a step slow closing him down, and he needs no time (and little physical motion) to get a booming shot off his foot.
It’s an elite talent.
How quick does it happen? Including time before and after the goal, that video clip lasts only four seconds.
Back to the familiar (kind of)
After a couple of weeks of tweaks, Berhalter returned to his tried-and-true (though how true it’s been this season is up for debate) 4-2-3-1, running out a personnel group that was basically expected (there was a shift to the 4-4-2 late in the game). There were no surprises. And it worked.
Of course, Crew SC took that familiar look and put a tactical spin on it by using the counter attack more often, showing what can happen with a little flexibility.
While the season has been painful to watch at times, it may be that it forces GB to grow as a coach in a way that continued success might not have. The past few weeks have show him looking at some different things, and also using his core methodology in slightly different ways.
On Saturday it worked (albeit against a team with some issues).