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Columbus Crew SC lineup breakdown: Colorado Rapids

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Tactical projection and lineups for a match a mile high.

Steffen; Næss, Crognale, Williams; Francis, Abu, Trapp, Afful; Meram, Higuain; Kamara Nathaniel Marhefka

Hello and welcome to my new weekly match preview piece! Each week around an hour before the match when lineups are announced I will put together a tactical projection and give my thoughts on lineup decisions and changes for the week. Time is pressing, the match against the Colorado Rapids is almost here, so let’s waste no time and get right down to it.

As Columbus Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter has done all season, this match’s lineup is again full of surprises. By the personnel named to the starting XI it appears that a 3-4-2-1 is in place for the second time this season. Expect a similar look to the team that took down D.C. United 2-0 in the third week of the season. This is how it will look:

Steffen; Næss, Crognale, Williams; Francis, Abu, Trapp, Afful; Meram, Higuain; Kamara
Columbus Crew SC starting XI vs Colorado Rapids (3-4-2-1 formation)
Nathaniel Marhefka

In this match against Pablo Mastroeni’s side, a three-man backline makes sense as the home side is expected to sit back and attempt to engage on the counter (Five man backline if the team plays deeper than expected). The Rapids. in their league-worst start, have been utilizing a low-block 4-4-2 structure that is both very passive defensively and counter-attacking based on the offense. An odd mix if you ask me, but the result is a defense that puts very little pressure on the ball and a lot of runs in from deep — the three-man back line is good against both of these.

In the last match against Seattle in a comfortable 3-0 win, Crew SC utilized their standard 4-2-3-1 with five different starters than named in this match. Being that the match was a mere three days ago, rotating both wing backs makes sense in this one while Ethan Finlay is rested today after playing a full 90 midweek.

Mohammed Abu and Alex Crognale are mild surprises to the lineup as Jonathan Mensah and Artur rest on the bench. No indication has been given as to either player, but Artur was labeled “ill” at halftime last week against the Sounders. While he has been in training, it is likely that Abu was favored for both fresh legs and a sturdier possession-based approach to the match. Jonathan did play midweek and is rested this week.

Speaking of possessional play, Colorado has averaged 29 percent possession in the past two matches. This compared to the Black & Gold’s 58 percent over that same time frame suggests that we should expect to to see the away side with the majority of the ball. The Rapids average the lowest time-on-the-ball in the league.

Columbus Crew’s attack is likely to find space in front of the Rapids defense with the wingbacks pushing high up the field to stretch the right and left midfielders to further compress the defense and mitigate potential counter attacks down the flanks.

Wide play by Columbus to spread the defense and limit counter attacks.
The Rapids 4-4-2 defending against Crew SC’s wide 3-4-2-1 in possession.
Nathaniel Marhefka

By deploying a three-man back line it will free up Wil Trapp to try and split the first defensive line (two forwards) of the Rapids. Expect inter-changing between Trapp and Abu — a further benefit of the Ghanaian over Artur. If there is difficulty engaging in the attacking third, look for Federico Higuain to play deeper to create a stronger link to the offensive third.

Follow me on Twitter for updates as tactics change during the match @GloryToColumbus or head to the comments section for discussion during the match.

Stay Massive, friends.