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Massive Notebook: Crew SC’s struggles without the ball

New York City FC turns the possession table, player ratings and a look ahead

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

Word of the Day ...

... pervious.

A word the SB Nation spellcheck doesn’t even recognize. (Yes, it’s a real word.) It’s the opposite of impervious, a word you (and spellcheck) may be more familiar with.

Pervious is defined as: admitting passage, permeable.

That was Columbus Crew SC on Saturday against New York City FC.

This was less a failing of one particular player and more a team defensive effort that wasn’t good enough.

Here is New York’s shot chart:

NYCFC shot chart

It doesn’t take an advanced degree to understand what you’re looking at: of NYCFC’s 10 shots on Saturday, nine of them came from inside the box, and eight of them from extremely high-rate positions. New York’s 1.91 expected goals was the third highest of the weekend and was .55 higher than their season xG/game (even with Saturday’s performance factored in).

Simply put, Crew SC didn’t make New York City work hard enough for its opportunities. Instead, NYC made CCSC do the work, bossing possession in a way Columbus is not used to dealing with and running them ragged with field switches.

NYCFC attacking half

New York’s attacking buildup leans slightly to the left (with heavy contributions from former Crew SC draft pick Ben Sweat, who made his MLS debut on Saturday), but look how much chance creation came from the right.

Put a line down the middle of the field, and nine chances created came from the right side. And an additional assist came from the left, but set up a far-post goal.

Columbus got pulled left and right too much, and wasn’t tough enough in breaking up plays. I think Mohammed Abu had something to do with this, as Patrick Guldan pointed out. That’s not a criticism of Abu’s overall worth, but of his struggles in a role CCSC needed him to play — he was solid in possession, but didn’t do enough out of it.

It’s a role Artur has done well in — buzzing around the midfield both with and without the ball, and pressuring to get the ball back when the Black & Gold lose it. Abu was behind the play too often when not in possession.

But Saturday was an indictment of team defense — Crew SC lost this game because it didn’t do the things it needed to everywhere on the field when it didn’t have the ball.


Player Ratings

How did the Black & Gold perform vs. NYCFC?
(Ratings are on a 1-10 scale, with 6 being average)

THE GOOD

Ola Kamara (7.5) — Kamara bagged another goal and his movement was excellent, with a chance to score a couple more, even with the team struggling in the second half.

Federico Higuain (7) — I thought the team didn’t get Pipa on the ball enough in the first 15-20 minutes or so, but when he did have the ball he was very good, scoring a goal and providing a dummy on another.

THE MEH

Jukka Raitala (6) — There were some issues in the second half, but I gave him an average score because I thought his first 45 minutes were some of his better two-way moments of the season.

Justin Meram (6) — It wasn’t a standout day for the attacking playmaker, but I thought he did put in a lot of defensive work (though he was at least involved in passing off Yangel Herrera on NYCFC’s second goal).

Ethan Finlay (6) — Typical two-way work rate for Finlay, and a great job pressuring high to create a Columbus goal. But otherwise wasn’t a major factor.

Kekutah Manneh (6) — This might be overly friendly, but I thought he showed small flashes of potential and certainly the speed he brings. It didn’t turn into anything, but I won’t be overly harsh for a 10-minute stint that was his first with the club.

NEED MORE

Zack Steffen (5.5) — Made one strong save on a Moralez header, but even with overall defensive issues still played a part in allowing three goals. Certainly needed to help organize and communicate, on the final goal at the very least.

Wil Trapp (5.5) — No standout bad moment, but on a day in which Columbus needed more in general in the defensive third, the captain didn’t help his team release pressure.

Nicolai Naess (5.5) — Was put in a bad spot on NYCFC’s final goal, but shoulders at least some blame and generally lacked the sharpness we normally see from him.

Jonathan Mensah (5.5) — I thought Jonathan distributed the ball well, but was he physical enough defensively to provide a counterpart for Naess?

Harrison Afful (5.5) — Could have used more help (physically and vocally) on the final-goal gaffe, but deserves at least partial blame in overall CCSC defensive effort.

Niko Hansen (5.5) — A 10-minute cameo. Wasn’t a lot of time to make a difference, but when CCSC needed a spark off the bench he didn’t offer it.

Mohammed Abu (5) — As covered above, he does some things well, but he didn’t provide midfield grit the squad needed and I think he could have done more to tracking back both on New York’s first and last goals.

INCOMPLETE

Adam Jahn (N/A) — Only played about six or seven minutes.


Look Ahead

Columbus Crew SC vs. New England Revolution, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at MAPFRE Stadium

The Revolution are a curious side. They are winless in their last four matches, and have seemed to underachieve offensively while improving defensively from last season.

The numbers show that perception may not be quite accurate. New England is averaging 1.56 goals for per game, which is in the top third of the league. That’s just ahead of 1.44 expected goals per game, which is still in the top third of the league. Whether that’s as many as you think they should averaged based on the group of attacking players they have is another question, but the reality is NER is creating goals at a pretty solid rate.

Defensively, the Revs are allowing 1.56 G/game, which is near the middle of MLS, but still in the bottom half. Their xG/game is a bit better, at 1.18, and is in the top half of the league.

Compare that to last year, when NER was sixth in the league in xG for and third worst in MLS in xG against.

So, defense is markedly improved, if not stout, and the attack may be underachieving a little, but not by horrendous margins.

Of course, that defense didn’t hold up last week, when New England let a 3-0 lead get away to settle for a 3-3 draw with Seattle Sounders. It was a tale of two halves, which leaves us to wonder which NER team will arrive in Columbus on Saturday, the one which took a 3-0 lead, or the one that latter stages 0-3?

Juan Agudelo and his five goals will lead that New England attack into MAPFRE Stadium.

We’ll have a more in-depth preview of the matchup later this week.