For Columbus Crew SC, offense seemingly isn’t a problem.
Despite finishing with the third-worst record in Major League Soccer in 2016, the Black & Gold led the league in chances created and had one of the top scorers in goals per minute.
While most of the 2016 issues were defensive, Crew SC also finished in the middle of the pack with only 50 goals scored.
The number of chances created compared to the number of goals scored shows a team that wasn’t clinical in front of goal. With way Columbus plays, overloading the attack, the team needed to be better in this department.
“I think we should have scored more last year,” head coach Gregg Berhalter admitted. “But I also think over time, that’s going to be corrected. I think over time, that can’t sustain itself.”
So far in 2017, the results remain the same. Through two games, Crew SC are once again creating chances, but only have two goals to show for their efforts.
“I think we created a number of chances, a lot of good movement, very good defending transition and at halftime we’re down 2-0,” Berhalter said of last week’s 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo. “So this is something that we’re going to look at and we’ve got to improve on.”
In the season-opening game against the Chicago Fire, the Black & Gold dominated the first half, creating chance after chance, but went into the locker room disappointed to have scored only once.
Last Saturday was the same. A very early goal was certainly a setback, but Columbus settled into its play and created enough quality chances to at least be level at the break. The goal did not come until late, when the game was already decided.
“Watching the game again, the first half of the game, take the first 90 seconds out of it when they score, it was exactly the game plan that we wanted,” Berhalter explained. “We wanted to prevent their counter attack, limit their chances and we wanted to dominate them in possession and create chances on our own and we did exactly that.
Of course you get concerned that we should be finishing more chances than we are. But I also think it’s something that’s going to come. I would also be probably more worried if we weren’t creating any chances. That would be a concern.”
Crew SC fans have heard this story before: “The goals will come,” “The point will come.” Last season neither did.
To Columbus’ credit, the team played much of the year without two of its top expected offensive weapons. Forward Kei Kamara, the team’s top returning goal scorer from 2015, was traded and Federico Higuain, the maestro in the midfield, missed large portions of the season with an injury.
While Ola Kamara was good, averaging a goal scored every 116 minutes played, he was expected to be a compliment to Kei, which could have provided a deadly attacking front, especially if Higuain remained healthy.
Looking at this season is more of the same. Crew SC ranks eighth in the league in shots per game (12) and 4.5 on goal. The Black & Gold are fourth in MLS with 13 percent of the team’s shots coming from inside the six-yard box and fifth from inside the penalty area (63 percent).
Yet there are only two goals and one point to show for it.
Winger Ethan Finlay does not think there is reason for alarm, at least not yet.
“I’d say this, we’re two games in,” he said. “I don’t know the exact numbers off the top of my head, but we created quite a few chances from the last game, big chances actually and some half chances. There’s obviously the conversion rate. You want it to always be as high as it can be and I think it will need to be higher as we go forward.”
According to Finlay, who pays attention to everything going on with the team and the league, this won’t be a concern unless this trend continues. Like Berhalter, he likes the number of chances created and thinks the talent is there to capitalize on them.
He did admit that there is room for improvement among the offensive players.
“One thing I think we need to improve on, and it goes for all the front four guys and even our midfielders and our wingbacks at times, it’s good runs in the box,” Finlay said. “I think it’s hard runs with the right timing and then it’s recognizing the guy in front of you, where he’s going. There’s been times where we’ve struggled with that, myself included, where I’m trying to read the play a little bit and I read it late and Ola and I are in the same spot and the ball goes straight by us.”
With Kamara missing the final week of preseason due to concussion symptoms, these first few weeks of the regular season have been about making sure everyone is on the same page offensively. As that chemistry continues to develop, the opportunities should get simpler.
“Those are the opportunities that I think are really good chances where we need to find ourselves in the right places,” Finlay said. “Because if you are, a lot of times they’re pretty easy finishes.”
While the team is currently content with the offensive chances, Berhalter admits that he would like to see more chances (“I want more, more, more, more chances.”) and Finlay knows he and his teammates must be better in front of goal.
“Again, just two games in,” he emphasized. “We’re creating chances. A lot of teams create a lot of half chances, maybe one or two big chances per game and I feel like we’re always creating quite a few big chances, or at least putting it in really dangerous areas.”