Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from the previous week’s Columbus Crew SC match.
Here’s a look at the finish from the Crew SC striker.
Crew SC came out firing on all cylinders, scoring two first-half goals and putting Seattle on the defensive almost immediately. The Black & Gold defense held firm for much of the match, with Zack Steffen playing one of his best games to date. Seattle, without Chad Marshall, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and most of their first choice backline, struggled to slow the Columbus attack.
I chose this goal instead of one of Columbus’ first two, because this third goal is the epitome of the Berhalter system working at it’s best. Specifically, this goal features a 10-pass sequence (with every pass on the ground), where nine different Crew SC players touched the ball, which traveled from the right side of the field to the left side, and ended with a goal right running right up the middle of the pitch.
This goal starts with a Jonathan Mensah header to fellow center-back Josh Williams off of a Seattle clearance.
Williams receives Jonathan’s header and takes the ball up the right side of the field, where he finds a wide open Hector Jimenez. A center back playing a ball out wide to a wingback, it doesn’t get much more Behalter-system than that.
With the ball out wide, Crew SC center midfielder Artur checks to Jimenez who plays the simple pass to the Brazilian. Artur then turns to the middle of the field to survey his options.
Notice Federico Higuain, making a run on the left side of the image. The Black & Gold’s No. 10 also checked back to Jimenez and, after the ball was passed to Artur, he immediately made a run up the field, taking a defender along and opening up space for the Crew SC offense. So far, none of these passes have been pressured by Seattle.
Artur plays a simple square pass to his midfield compatriot, captain Wil Trapp, who, seeing that he has ample time and space, lets the ball run in front of him as he surveys his many options.
Immediately, Trapp has four options: a drop pass to Jonathan, a pass to left-back Jukka Raitala; carry the ball up the field himself or a difficult pass up the field to Justin Meram.
As pressure from Alvaro Fernandez arrives, Trapp opts for the safe option and slots a pass into the path of Raitala.
To this point, the ball has moved from the center backs, to the right back, to both central midfielders and now to the left back, all without much defensive pressure.
Seeing space ahead of him, Raitala carries the ball up the left side of the field, waiting for pressure from Seattle.
I’ve highlighted this image to show this nifty move by Raitala. As Cristian Roldan begins to pressure him, Raitala does a quick cutback which leaves Roldan a few yards ahead of him and gives the Crew SC left back time and space to make a decision.
With about two yards of space, after making a clever move on Roldan, Raitala slots the ball to an unmarked Meram.
As Meram receives the ball, he is open and thus able to survey all of his options. The Crew SC winger could pass the ball back to his left back, dribble the ball up the field until he is defended, find Federico Higuain or pass a square ball to Artur.
Meram decides to dribble forward until he is engaged by Seattle right back Jordy Delem. As Delem begins to defend Meram, the Crew SC winger will initiate a brilliant series of one-touch-passes with Higuain, confusing Delem and setting up Meram’s eventual assist to Kamara.
Let’s take a look at Meram and Higuain’s quick passing combo before we break it down.
After Meram’s first pass to Higuain, the Crew SC attacking midfielder makes a one-touch pass back to his winger. Delem, the only defender engaged with these Black & Gold attackers, switched pressure to Higuain after Meram’s initial pass and now is switching back to Meram after Higuain’s one-touch pass. A hallmark of possession-based systems like Columbus’ is putting offensive players into these two-on-one situations with the defending team.
As we saw in the build up to Ola Kamara’s great goal in New England, Crew SC will use these “rondo” opportunities to confuse defensive players and open up an offensive player’s options to pass or dribble.
As Meram receives the pass from Higuain, and as Delem shifts back to Meram and prepares to shift back to Higuain, the Crew SC winger makes his run into open space. By making this run, Meram forces Delem to decide whether he will run with him or defend Higuain.
Meram’s run slows Delem just enough to give Higuain the opportunity to play another one-touch pass into the space ahead of his teammate, who has gotten around the delayed defender.
With Delem out of the picture, and with slight pressure from Oniel Fisher, Meram has two immediate options: continue dribbling forward toward the middle of the field or slot a pass into Kamara who is running the channel between Seattle’s center backs.
Meram, still not pressured, slots the ball between Fisher and Seattle’s right center back Gustav Svensson, as Kamara continues running that center channel.
Now, Kamara is in a footrace with Seattle’s defenders. If Kamara wins this race, he will have to immediately decide what to do with the ball, be it a shot with his left foot or a quick stab forward to create more space.
Kamara decides to fire a one-time shot with his left foot, looking to beat Stefan Frei on the back post just like Crew SC’s previous two goals.
Kamara is able to hit an inch-perfect ball that bangs in off of Seattle’s back post and in.
Take a closer look at just how tough Ola’s shot was.
- This goal is an example of Berhalter’s system working perfect. Nine different Crew SC players touch the ball, each making a relatively simple pass that puts their teammate in a position to make a good decision. Moments like these show just how effective Columbus can be when they play within themselves and their system. It should be noted that Seattle did not employ a high press on this play, which could have disrupted this sequence, but that’s a topic for another goal.
- Meram and Higuain’s give-and-go was a beautiful thing to behold. They rendered Delem totally ineffective.
- Once again, Kamara’s movement is a key to this goal. Running the channel between the center backs, Kamara was able to get in and score a beautiful goal with his weaker foot. Kamara had been unlucky earlier in the match (bringing back bad memories of easy misses in New England), but nothing builds confidence like scoring a difficult goal.
- Throughout this match, Crew SC shredded the Sounders in the middle of the field, providing a much needed shift in Berhalter’s typically cross-heavy tactics. Kamara is much better at scoring with the ball at his feet rather than with his head or on a cross, and the Black & Gold will reap huge dividends if they can continue to attack the middle of the field.