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Anatomy of a Goal: Jack Harrison’s Game Winner

This week we look at the NYCFC’s game winner.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal from the previous week’s Columbus Crew SC match.

For Week 9 of the 2017 MLS season, we take a look at Jack Harrison’s 76th minute goal that gave New York City FC a 3-2 lead as part of their win over Crew SC on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the finish from the NYCFC winger.

Crew SC were on the back foot for much of second half of Saturday’s match. Columbus manger Gregg Berhalter admitted as much after the match, suggesting that the Black & Gold “lost complete control of the match” after taking a second half lead.

NYCFC’s game winner began with an Alexander Callens long-ball to winger Rodney Wallace. In the above image, note the Crew SC pressure forcing the NYCFC center back to play a 50/50 ball into the Columbus defensive half. Black & Gold midfielder Mohammed Abu likely should have been covering someone in the middle of the field, but he does begin to track back to his defensive half as he sees Callens make the deep pass.

Wallace receives the ball in a difficult position, and attempts to flick the ball into the path of City striker Sean Okoli. Jonathan Mensah is well positioned to defend this pass, and easily beats Okoli to the ball.

On the far right side of the above image, just to the right of the referee, you can just see Yangel Herrera, who will have the assist on Harrison’s goal. Abu is just behind Herrera.

As Jonathan approaches the ball he has three options: a drop pass to goalkeeper Zack Steffen who has a full view of the field, a square pass to right back Harrison Afful or kick the ball way over the head of Afful and out of bounds letting Crew SC regroup defensively. A pass to Steffen is probably the worst option, but any of these three choices should have given his side a chance to move the ball back up the field.

Jonathan opts to make the easy pass to Afful, who will immediately be pressed by Wallace. Both Wallace and Okoli were prepared to pressure the Crew SC back line as soon as the ball was turned over, and that press will force Afful to make a quick decision.

As Afful prepares to receive the ball, he has four immediate options: a drop pass to Steffen, a pass back up the field to Wil Trapp (just to the right of this image), a pass to center-back Nikolai Naess, splitting Okoli and Wallace or a pass back to Jonathan if he moves into a better position.

A pass to Trapp, who was unmarked, would have been ideal but was likely just out of Afful’s view and made for a difficult option under the pressure of Wallace.

Before we move on, pay attention to the huge space between the back line and the Crew SC midfielders. From this view, you can’t even see Abu or Trapp, though Trapp gets to the sideline in time to theoretically receive a pass. Though Abu began tracking back, he isn’t able to make himself useful in this play, showing the value injured Artur with his ability to cover acres of space.

Wallace closes down Afful’s angle to the sideline and Okoli pressures Jonathan, removing two of the right back’s passing options. Jonathan takes his run in the path of Steffen, effectively bringing Okoli into the path of Steffen as well, further limiting Afful’s passing options.

With only one real option to choose from, Afful elects to make a seemingly difficult pass to Naess in the middle of the field. Afful likely sees Naess, highlighted on the right side of the image, and is likely unable to see Herrera sprinting downfield (Editor’s note, this was confirmed by Afful postgame). From Naess’s reaction to Afful’s pass, he also did not notice the NYCFC midfielder heading his way.

From this angle, Afful’s pass to Naess looks slightly less difficult than the previous view. Wallace may just be cutting off Afful’s vision of the right side of the field, hiding the sprinting Herrera from view.

Now is when things really start to go downhill for the Black & Gold. Somehow, Naess did not noticed Herrera blazing toward the ball. Judging by Naess’s nonchalant jog toward the ball, it doesn’t seem like anyone tells him that Herrera is bearing down on him. Abu still hasn’t been able to get in front of Herrera, and will soon slow to a jog and fully give up on this play.

Had Naess not switched off, he would have had a very easy one-touch pass to a totally unmarked Trapp.

Herrera is able to get to the ball at the same time as the Crew SC center back. As you will see below, Herrera is able to deflect the ball around Naess to set up his assist to Harrison. Abu has totally slowed up, and spends the rest of the play doing little more than halfheartedly jogging toward the goal.

In the video above, you can see just how blindsided Naess was by Herrera. I wasn’t able to hear what was happening on the field, but if the team is communicating as it should have been (i.e. Steffen and Abu both yelling to Naess about the impending collision with Herrera), then this goal should not have happened.

Once Herrera has deflected the ball around Naess, he sets off a footrace to the ball with the Crew SC defender. Finally, Harrison has arrived on the scene running totally unmarked into the Crew SC goal box. Harrison was able to catch Columbus left back Jukka Raitala too far up the field, and easily beats him back into the attack.

As Herrera beats Naess to the ball, he has a very simple pass to Harrison, who remains unmarked. Raitala has closed down the distance to Harrison, but will be unable to catch the NYCFC winger.

Naess is able to make Herrera’s pass more difficult than initially anticipated, forcing the City midfielder to make a sliding pass into the path of his teammate. Raitala continues to close down Harrison, but the speedy winger will just beat Raitala and Naess to the ball.

To Raitala’s credit, he nearly catches Harrison before he can slot the ball between Steffen’s legs. Still, neither Raitala nor Naess are able to get in front of Harrison’s shot.

Notice Steffen’s positioning. He has made himself wide in front of Harrison, but his legs are spread very far apart, giving Harrison an easy path to goal.

Note the above video to see just how open Harrison was. Even though Harrison had to slow down his run he still gets to the ball before anyone from Crew SC.

Not the best look for Steffen in the image above. The Crew SC goalkeeper, who had already been chipped for Harrison’s first goal, gets nutmegged for the game winner.

Findings:

  1. Crew SC was once again outdone by a high press. Afful and Jonathan took the options afforded to them, but were ultimately let down by their teammates, as Naess doesn’t hustle toward the ball, Abu doesn’t cover anyone and Raitala is burned by Harrison.
  2. NYCFC knew exactly what it was doing on this play. Harrison saw Raitala up the field and sprinted right into the unoccupied defensive left of Crew SC.
  3. The absence of Artur is glaring. In fact, there is an Artur-sized hole in the midfield that can be seen in many of the images above.
  4. The Crew SC defense was hung out to dry by it’s midfield on this play, from a lack of defensive coverage to a lack of passing options while Afful and Mensah were under pressure. NYCFC was able to switch the ball quickly from their defensive third to Crew SC’s defensive third, but that play was the result of a slow buildup by City rather than a Columbus attacking turnover.