On Wednesday, we discussed the three matches between Columbus Crew SC and Toronto FC in the 2017 MLS regular season and presented some of the things the Black & Gold did well on those matches.
With the first leg of the Eastern Conference Finals just around the corner, it’s time to recap the main struggles Columbus had earlier this season and see where the team stands now in each of them.
If Jonathan is performing at a really solid level now, that was definitely not the case six months ago. Playing his first matches in Major League Soccer, the Ghanaian international was struggling at the time and his poor positioning was in display in the matches against Toronto.
The center back was involved in most of the goals conceded by Crew SC and was the responsible for the penalty kick that allowed Toronto to open the scoring in the 5-0 road loss. At that point, Jonathan suffered huge criticism and was playing under a lot of pressure.
Fortunately, the two-time World Cup veteran looks a completely different player now. Despite of a few mistakes, the Ghanaian has showed impressive progress and his performance will be a key factor in the series outcome.
Five of the eight goals Crew SC conceded in the three matches against Toronto happened either in the first 10 minutes or in the last. That shows that the Black & Gold started or finished the matches slowly, a critical mistake against a very talented opponent.
Against such a dangerous team, it’s mandatory that Columbus maintains the attention level high during all the 90 minutes and any potential overtime. As a good sign, the team conceded only one goal in one of these two situations in the last 10 matches. Keeping this commitment will be extremely helpful in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It could be a coincidence, but both times Crew SC tried a new formation against Toronto, it lost the game. In the 2-1 home loss, the Black & Gold experimented with a 3-6-1 lineup with Ethan Finlay as right wing back. The system worked for part of the match, but the Canadians prevailed in the end.
In Toronto, Gregg Berhalter sent the team to the field in an offensive 4-1-4-1 formation with Wil Trapp as the only defensive midfielder and it ended in a 5-0 defeat. The lack of dynamism in the center of the field charged a heavy toll and Crew SC had probably its worst match of the season at BMO Field.
The only time Crew SC lined up on its traditional 4-2-3-1 system, it prevailed, winning 2-1. The team is familiar with this formation and, considering the level of talent available, it shouldn’t change its system because of the opponents.
Stopping the Ball
The inability of stopping the ball was one of Crew SC’s biggest sins in the beginning of the season and the matches against Toronto were no different. The team conceded several goals while defending in transition and at least three of them could have been avoided if the group did a good job on stopping the ball far from the penalty box.
The team has showed considerable improvement since then as its defensive system is much better adjusted in the last months. Making smart decisions is vital as Toronto will be a tough opponent and this series is very likely to be decided in details.
If Crew SC wants to prevail against the Supporter’s Shield winners and keep this postseason run going, it will be important to revisit these mistakes and make sure they do not happen again.