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Anatomy of a Goal: Higuain’s Equalizer

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This week we look at an example of Crew SC’s system functioning perfectly.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-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 17 of the 2017 MLS Season, we take a look at Federico Higuain’s 26th minute equalizer as part of the 3-1 loss to Atlanta United on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the finish from Columbus’ No.1 10.

Crew SC gave up the first goal in this match on a turnover created by the Atlanta high press. While it’s tempting to review that goal, we have covered the Black & Gold’s struggles with pressure in their defensive third multiple times this season.

Columbus’ lone goal of the game is another example of just how good the Gregg Berhalter system can be when it works like it should. This goal is the result of nine passes, eight of which were simple and one that required a bit of individual skill. Only the final pass was defended and the goal-scoring shot came from right about the United penalty marker.

Higuain’s equalizer begins with Jukka Raitala receiving the ball on the left. Raitala immediately has Justin Meram and Wil Trapp open, and must quickly get rid of the ball before the aggressive Atlanta press is able to take effect.

Raitala picks out Trapp, surrounded by United attackers ready to pounce. Again, Trapp must decide whether to play a quick pass back to Jonathan Mensah or to play a quick ball into the path of a wide open Artur.

Trapp gets the pass off to Artur who immediately sees Higuain standing, unmarked, near midfield. The Atlanta press, which never really got started, has already been broken by these three quick, simple passes, all of which moved forward toward the midfield rather than backward toward the Columbus goal. Back passes can be valuable, and are a linchpin of Berhalter’s possession based system, but on Saturday these passes led to multiple turnovers.

As Higuain prepares to receive Artur’s ball, that was just a bit overhit, he notices Ethan Finlay running in an open position. Higuain makes a dummy run (a run where the player pretends to receive the ball but lets it pass by him) and allows Finlay to receive this pass.

Harrison Afful, sensing that the offensive break is on, makes the intelligent decision to begin his run downfield toward the attacking end. Afful will make the cross that sets up Ola Kamara’s assist.

As Finlay feels the pressure from Atlanta left back Greg Garza, he immediately passes the ball back to Higuain who has had the opportunity to survey the field and his passing options. Afful continues his unmarked run up the right flank.

With the ball at his feet and the a full view of the attacking half, Higuain has three options as he is closed down by Jeff Larentowicz: a slotted pass to Afful, a pass into space for Finlay or a more difficult ball over the top to Kamara.

Higuain keeps with the trend and makes the easy pass to Afful who immediately has three options: a give-and-go back to Higuain, a pass to Finlay in the space between Garza and Larentowicz or dribble forward until Garza begins to defend him.

Afful decides to carry the ball up the field until Garza decides to leave Finlay and mark the Black & Gold’s right back. Marked by Garza, Afful can either make a difficult pass to Higuain or pass to Finlay on the wing.

Notice former Crew SC captain Michael Parkhurst standing with his left foot on the top of the penalty box. Parkhurst will keep Finlay onside during the next pass, much to the dismay of fellow center-back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.

Afful makes the simple pass to Finlay as Gonzalez Pirez mistakenly argues for offside. Garza shifts back to the speedy Columbus winger, leaving Afful open as a safety valve.

Feeling the pressure of two Atlanta defenders, Finlay passes right back to Afful. As the fullback sees a defender approaching to his left, he must decide if he should make a quick pass, attempt to beat the defenders off the dribble or look for a safety valve at his back.

Both Kamara and Higuain, the assist man and goalscorer, are both surrounded by Atlanta defenders, but not tightly marked. Parkhurst is generally aware of Kamara’s positioning as Tyrone Mears shifts toward Justin Meram.

Afful, potentially noticing that Kamara has a few yards of space behind Parkhurst, decides to send in an early cross.

Afful’s cross will hit the mark, but Kamara’s movement and positioning are the real keys to this portion of the goal. In the above highlight you can see Kamara, who was just onside as the ball was played, contort his body around Parkhurst and knock the ball into the path of Higuain with the outside of his right foot.

Thus far, every pass in the goal sequence was simple but this goal still requires a bit of individual brilliance from Kamara.

As the ball bounces near Kamara, who is already getting in position around Parkhurst, Higuain is surprisingly unmarked inside the United penalty box.

Even as Kamara gets to the ball, Higuain is still open.

Though Kamara knocks the ball back into the path of Higuain, his pass did not take Parkhurst out of the play. As the ball approaches Higuain, he is defended by Parkurst and has to quickly decide whether he will hit a one time shot or try to beat Parkhurst off the dribble.

The above highlight shows Higuain fake a first touch volley and take the ball just to the left of Parkhurst where he’ll slot home the equalizer.

Parkhurst does well to recover onto Higuain, who is faced with the decision between a first-touch shot and taking the Atlanta center back off the dribble.

Higuain’s fake volley sets Parkhurt just off balance enough to allow the Crew SC attacker the time to get around the defender.

Around Parkhurst, Higuain makes a quick shot to the keeper’s right. Kamara is absolutely offside but arguably does not interfere with the play.

Higuain’s right-footed-shot levels the match.

Findings:

  1. When the Crew SC system works well, it is a ruthlessly efficient thing of beauty. In 22 seconds and nine passes, seven Black & Gold players touch the ball with only one real instance of defensive pressure.
  2. Kamara is again able to make a magnificent individual play, contorting his body around his former teammate and hitting an outside the foot pass to Higuain.
  3. Higuain is able to easily score, but he does take the most difficult angle possible using his right foot. Adept viewers will notice that Higuain almost never shoots with his left foot even in situations, like this one, when a left-footed shot would be more efficient than a right-footed shot.