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Anatomy of a Goal: Alan Gordon’s Game-winner

This week, we look at Alan Gordon’s late-game winner.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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.

For match 16 of the 2017 MLS Season, we take a look at Alan Gordon’s 86th minute headed goal that put the Colorado Rapids up 2-1 as part of the win over Columbus Crew SC on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the finish from the Rapids forward.

The Black & Gold once again gave up a late lead as Colorado striker Kevin Doyle tied the game in the 80th minute. While Columbus held a significant possession edge over the Rapids, Crew SC were ultimately unable to break down a stingy Colorado defense, and were unable to adapt to a sloppy high press.

It was difficult to decide which of this game’s three goals to review. Federico Higuain’s opener was the result of a fortunate deflection and Doyle’s equalizer was another breakdown by the Columbus defense. Gordon’s game-winner, however, shows why the Colorado striker was a fixture on multiple MLS Cup-winning teams.

The Rapids’ game-winner begins with midfielder Micheal Azira. Azira received the ball on a throw-in and is under very little pressure from Columbus, defending in two distinct banks. The Colorado midfielder has time to survey his options and take the ball at the Crew SC defense, a short pass to Mohammed Saeid or a cross-field switch to left back Eric Miller.

Azira goes for the most difficult option, and switches the ball to a totally unmarked Miller as the Black & Gold defense watch. The Rapids pushed multiple players up to the Columbus 18-yard box, forcing Harrison Afful to fall back and defend Colorado winger Josh Gatt.

Because Gatt forced Afful to defend further up the field, Miller has acres of space to carry the ball forward. Wil Trapp, seeing the space ahead of Miller, begins to close off the Rapid left back’s movement.

As Miller and Trapp continue to move toward each other, Gatt checks back to his teammate. Afful sticks with the speedy Colorado winger, staying between Gatt and the goal.

As Trapp approaches, Miller makes the simple pass to Gatt, who is defended by Afful. Notice in this image and the following images that Afful gives Gatt space on the ball but stays between the Rapid winger and the goal. Afful is likely aware of Gatt’s reputation as a speedy player, and intelligently gives just enough space to keep Gatt from trying to beat him at speed.

Now, Gordon’s work begins. Highlighted at the top of the 18-yard box, Gordon is in the channel between Jonathan Mensah and Alex Crognale. Jonathan is currently occupied by Caleb Calvert. Gordon, who feasts on crosses, is likely trying his best to avoid the taller Crognale, and will switch places with Calvert.

Afful stays between Gatt and the goal, as Trapp shifts over to provide defensive help, keeping the Colorado winger about 35 yards from the goal. You can see that Crognale is aware of Gordon’s positioning, but is giving the Rapid striker a yard or two of space, while Calvert continues to occupy Jonathan.

Afful’s goal in this defensive sequence is to prevent Gatt from going around him or to force a cross from a difficult distance or angle. The Crew SC right back, with the help of Trapp, does both of those things, forcing Gatt to send in a long cross.

In the box, Gordon has backed up directly into Jonathan. Crognale will not really mark anyone on this play.

As Gatt prepares to cross the ball into the box for the game-winning assist, let’s take a closer look at Gordon’s move to get separation from Jonathan before we break it down.

In the left-most magnifier, Trapp and Afful have closed down Gatt, and force him to make a difficult, though successful, cross. It is difficult to see Gordon, but you can just make out his right leg to the right of Jonathan. Here, Gordon and the defender are fully engaged, with the Black & Gold center back right on the Rapid striker’s back.

As Gordon prepares for a cross, he gets just to the right of Jonathan. The Colorado striker will engage Mensah and then push the Columbus center back off of him, creating space and very briefly putting Jonathan off balance.

Gatt’s difficult ball leaves his foot while Gordon extends his left arm, beginning to separate himself from Jonathan.

As the claret-highlighted ball travels toward his head, Gordon has fully knocked Jonathan off balance. The Crew SC defender’s chief mistake here is letting Gordon get between him and the goal. On Jonathan’s goal-side shoulder, Gordon can more easily read the pass and clear up anything on the back post. As Jonathan saw Waylon Francis come to mark Calvert, he should have immediately repositioned himself between Gordon and the goal.

Now, Gordon can gauge the trajectory of the ball while Jonathan is forced to recover and decide whether to cover the Rapid striker or to attempt to play the ball. Zack Steffen is caught in a difficult place between attempting to defend a headed ball and trying to grab the ball out of the air. As Steffen gains more experience, he will have to make a much quicker decision on whether to play the shot or the cross.

Jonathan decides to jump in an attempt to either play the ball or distract Gordon, but all he does is get in the way of his goalkeeper. Steffen is blocked by Jonathan and Gordon has a perfect view of the ball’s path...

...and is able to head home the game-winner by barely jumping.

On video, you can see that Gordon gets so much separation that he barely has to jump in order to nail the game-winner.


  1. Afful has been singled out in this space before, but in this specific sequence he does everything correctly, forcing Gatt into an a difficult cross that should have been picked up before it reached Gordon.
  2. This is Gordon at his best, creating contact and then separation in order to score a late winner. In the highlight and the above video, notice how much separation he gets from Jonathan after initially creating the contact with the Black & Gold center back.
  3. Crognale and Jonathan both could have done better on this goal. Calvert does provide some distraction for Crognale, but the tall center back should have attempted to stay with Colorado’s chief aerial threat in Gordon. Jonathan could not have played this much worse, allowing a striker with a nose for goal to get on between him and the goal and being physically muscled out of the play.