Word of the day ...
But the performance that caught my eye was that of the Black & Gold defensive midfield. Just days after the trade that sent Tony Tchani to the Vancouver Whitecaps, it seemed appropriate that the Crew SC double pivot would put in a vintage performance.
Five games into the season it’s clear that Gregg Berhalter has settled on a defensive midfield pairing of Wil Trapp and Artur. The latter is trying to prove himself and the former is coming off a decidedly inconsistent 2016 (and that’s coming from me, who cringes every time someone acts as if Trapp is dispensible [HINT: He’s not. He’s critical to Berhalter’s system.])
But enough with nested parantheticals.
To put it simply, Trapp and Artur had standout performances against Orlando, which is really a continuation of what we’ve seen early this season.
Against the Lions, Trapp (as usual) led the team in passes with 81, completing 91 percent of them. Defensively, he had four tackles, four interceptions and three clearances. Here’s what his day looked like:
Artur had 55 passes (third on the team), completing 85 percent of them, and had five tackles, three interceptions and two clearances. Here’s what his day looked like:
There were subtle moments, like when, at 20 minutes, Artur pressured a counter-attacking Carlos Rivas, funneling him right into Trapp, who intercepted a pass attempt. A moment later, Columbus was flashing down the right side for a dangerous ball into the box.
Then there were more obvious disruptions, like this critical breakup of a counter attack by Trapp:
And in going back and looking for that tackle to pull for a clip, I encountered countless other small moments of defensive positional work from Trapp, or Artur applying pressure all over the field to put the Orlando City attack just off kilter.
While Orlando was able to garner some possession, especially in the second half, most of its shots were from outside the box (only four were from the top of the 18 in), and it didn’t get a whole lot in transition. A large part of that was the strong partnership between Trapp and Artur.
And, of course, there was Artur making an outstanding track-back run to dispossess Rivas in transition, before bombing the pass forward that led to Meram’s first goal.
Massive Report’s Collin Johnson did an outstanding job breaking down that goal, so I won’t rehash it all.
(Seriously, if you missed that link, here it is again. Click it: READ ME)
Still, I think Artur’s defensive run to make the tackle is worth reliving:
You know what happens next.
One more thing ...
While there are a lot of reasons to feel good about a 2-0 win that gives the club its first three-game winning streak in three years, the scoreline in many ways does not reveal the true run of play.
Orlando made a clear adjustment at halftime to press higher up the field, and it caused all sorts of problems for Columbus. It resulted in less possession, an inefficient attack and turnovers in more dangerous areas.
It was yet another example of the team struggling to deal with a high press, and while it’s a hard system to implement on the fly, you can be sure more and more opponents will continue to use it as much as they can.
Crew SC was significantly out-shot (14-6) and managed just three on target, two of which it put in the back of the goal.
The final ball just wasn’t there an awful lot, and that shows in the team’s attacking dashboard:
Not much deep penetration on the wings, not much connection in the final third; give credit to Orlando City for preventing that.
I know CCSC was two close offside calls away from an Ola Kamara goal or two, but there were some extended stretches of attacking frustration.
How did the Black & Gold perform vs. Orlando?
(Ratings on a 1-10 scale, with 6 being average)
Justin Meram (8) — Not flawless, but how can you argue with a brace? He scored with both feet, got into dangerous positions and pitched in with defensive contributions down the left wing. And he could have had an assist or two if it wasn’t for the AR’s flag.
Artur (7.5) — As I recapped above, made a critical defensive play followed by an assist to set up the first goal, and was bright spot all game, buzzing around the field and making life difficult for Orlando City.
Wil Trapp (7.5) — Some key interceptions and tackles defensively, and positioned himself to funnel OCSC away from some dangerous areas. And, of course, the deep-lying metronome.
Nicolai Naess (6.5) — Helped pitch a shutout against a dangerous Orlando forward line, keeping the backline organized against the physicality and pace of the Lions’ attack.
Alex Crognale (6.5) — A second start, a second shining performance. He has yet to blink.
Ola Kamara (6) — A mostly quiet game for the striker, though his movement continued to be dangerous.
Juuka Raitala (6) — Had a couple of moments of uncertainty, but seemed to continue to settle in and put in a steady effort. His off-the-ball pick of Cyle Larin in the 6-yard box was a huge, perhaps overlooked moment.
Zack Steffen (6) — Not asked to do a whole lot.
Niko Hansen (6) — Not a long appearance, but worked up and down the field.
Federico Higuain (6) — After one of his best performances in a long time, Pipa was decidedly more anonymous against Orlando. He didn’t connect as well in the attack, with some credit going to OCSC for that. But even when Columbus didn’t have as much possession, he didn’t disappear, making a key defensive play that led to the second goal.
Ethan Finlay (5.5) — He was able to get deep into the attacking third at moments and stretch the field, but the final ball was lacking. Definitely was hurt by Orlando’s press in the second half, which often stopped the ball before it got to Finlay.
Harrison Afful (5.5) — Was forced deeper by OCSC’s preference to overload the left wing. That kept him from asserting as much influence flying forward as he usually does.
NOT ENOUGH SAMPLE SIZE
Columbus Crew SC vs. Chicago Fire, 2 p.m. EST
For the first time in 2017, the Black & Gold will face an opponent for a second time, and it will be the rival Fire.
The two clubs met in the season opener and played to a 1-1 draw at MAPFRE Stadium. This meeting will come on the road for Crew SC.
There’s also been a major change for Chicago in the interim, as the Fire made a splashy signing to bring in German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger into the fold.
I was critical of the signing, and there are still some major questions about Schweinsteiger’s ability to adapt and hold up to the MLS grind, but the reviews of his first performance last week against the Montreal Impact are positive.
His presence pushed Chicago into a 4-3-3 and his calming presence and feathery touch on his distribution were immediately present.
And he did that many times last weekend.
Still, the Fire remain a work in progress.
Columbus will have to find a way to limit Schweinsteiger’s effectiveness — likely by cutting off the ball before it gets to him — and testing a Fire defense that may be better but still can be caught.
For a second time in two meetings, Chicago will be without Juninho, who was suspended for the opener (carried over from Liga MX) and will be suspended again after picking up a red card against Montreal (on the softest second yellow you’ll ever see).
Check back to Massive Report later in the week for a more encompassing breakdown of the matchup.