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Anatomy of a Goal: Meram’s Mother’s Day Miracle

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This week we look at Justin Meram’s game winner.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Montreal Impact Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from Columbus Crew SC‘s previous match.

For Match 12 of the 2017 MLS Season, we take a look at Justin Meram’s 91st minute hat-trick earning goal that put Crew SC up 3-2 as part of the win over Montreal Impact on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the finish from the Crew SC winger.

The Black & Gold got off to a hot start, with Meram scoring a brace in the first half. Despite that hot start, Columbus ceded much of the possession to Montreal and looked to be in for yet another second half collapse.

It’s tempting to call this goal a “breakaway” goal but I prefer to call it a “transition” goal. While Meram does dribble more than 50 yards by himself, Crew SC still have to break down the Impact’s defense in order to bag the game winner.

Meram’s finish begins in the above image. Wil Trapp has just broken up a typical Ignacio Piatti cut in from the left side, placing the ball at the feet of Crew SC right back Hector Jimenez. Niko Hansen is just behind the play providing a safety valve for this tackled ball. Meram, shifting to the center of the field after Federico Higuain’s 74th minute substitution, is unmarked but in the vicinity of, the incredibly tired, Chris Duvall.

After Trapp tackled the ball into the path of Jimenez, he directs the fullback to the wide open Hansen, much like he directed Jonathan Mensah to an open Higuain against New England. Meram is still in the center of the field and Duvall has made his move to mark the winger. I’ve highlighted Duvall not to suggest that he isn’t match fit enough to compete into the 90th minute of a match, but instead to show just how much Meram has left in the tank. As you’ll see in the following images, Meram, who has played all but seven minutes of three matches in eight days, will pick up the ball and totally outrun Duvall.

As Hansen brings the ball up the field, he immediately has two options. He can either continue forward and try to beat Patrice Bernier; or make a simple pass to the wide open Meram. Duvall, still highlighted, is more or less level with Meram.

As Bernier closes in, Hansen opts for the simple pass to Meram. The winger has acres of space, and Ola Kamara, ahead of him but does have Duvall closing in from his left.

As soon as Hansen passes the ball to Meram, he continues his run at pace around Bernier, opening himself for another pass. Meram begins his move to his attacking half, and is nearly marked by Duvall. However, this is as close as the defender will get to Meram.

The above video shows just how badly, and easily, Meram is able to outpace Duvall. Duvall carried a relatively heavy offensive load in this match, but Meram is playing his third match in eight days, having been subbed out only once during this congested period. Despite the workload, Meram blazes away from Duvall like it’s his first run of the match.

After Meram outruns Duvall he has two legitimate options: a pass to Hansen, running at full pace downfield or continue to dribble at Montreal center-back Kyle Fisher until Fisher commits to defending Meram.

Kamara is highlighted with Laurent Ciman near the middle of the image. Though Kamara is not in a position to receive a pass, his run occupies Ciman and open a lane for Meram.

Meram opts to continue his run, forcing Fisher to commit. As Fisher shields Meram’s left, the attacker can either make a simple pass to an open Hansen, or a more difficult pass to Kamara, who has a better angle on goal.

I want to highlight Fisher’s shield of Meram’s left in the above image and sequence. At first glance, I was confused by Fisher’s decision to shield Meram’s weaker foot. While Meram has finished with his left foot more often this season, he still heavily prefers to shoot and pass with his right foot.

However, on second (and tenth) watch, I think Fisher makes the correct decision here. By shielding Meram’s left, Fisher gives up Meram’s stronger foot to force him right, creating a more difficult shooting angle or forcing a pass to Hansen, who has a much worse angle on goal than Meram would.

Fisher knows that Ciman is on his left, covering Kamara, and must assume that Ciman or a trailing player will shift over to cover Meram if the Crew SC hat-trick-hero makes a pass to Hansen. No trailing Montreal player would recover in time, leaving the two Impact center backs to cover three Crew SC attackers.

Meram makes his pass to Hansen as Fisher shifts over to attempt to cut off any passing or crossing angle. Now, Hansen will have two options. He can either attempt a shot at a difficult angle or pass back to Meram. Duvall, back frame, will not reach Meram in time.

Hansen makes the correct decision to pass the ball back to Meram, but must make a difficult pass back across his body. As Hansen successfully puts the ball back into the path of Meram, the Crew SC No. 9 must make a quick decision: with Ciman bearing down on his goal side and Duvall finally approaching from the back will he take a shot on goal; or play Kamara?

Meram, feeling the Mother’s Day magic from his mom’s goal request, decides to be Crew SC’s hero and fires a one-timer toward the back post...

...and buries the winner. Notice the highlighted Kamara. Even as the ball is going into the goal, he is frustrated that Meram hasn’t passed him the ball...but don’t worry, Kamara didn’t stay mad for long.

Findings:

1. Justin Meram had an incredible match, and somehow found the legs to run the full length of the field in the 91st minute of his third game in eight days.

2. Niko Hansen made every correct decision during this play. As soon as he made his entry pass to Meram, he blazed by Patrice Bernier. He also made the difficult cross-body pass back to Meram for the game-clinching goal.

3. Montreal’s center backs tried to close out the Crew SC attack, but stopping three attackers, two of which were substitutes, requires a bit of luck. The Impact had no luck on this play.

Extra-time:

Because this week’s goal was relatively straightforward, I wanted to highlight one portion of one more goal from Crew SC’s win over Montreal. Specifically, I want to show how Adam Jahn’s movement created an open lane for Justin Meram’s first goal.

All in all Jahn had a relatively forgettable match, and might have been at fault on Montreal’s equalizer, but his movement in the video above drew Ciman away from Meram, and opened a huge lane for Meram to smash in the opener.

Jahn starts out on Meram’s right, just in front of Kekuta Manneh. As Jahn sees Manneh run behind him, he darts in front of Ciman, forcing Fisher to either follow Jahn, leaving Manneh in on goal, or to stay with Manneh, giving Meram a lane ahead. Fisher opts to stay with Manneh, and as Jahn crosses in front of Ciman, the center back’s movement is slowed just enough to give Meram an open shot on goal after rebounding his own pass.