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Anatomy of a Goal: Justin Meram’s Ricocheted Winner

Breaking down “Meram’s” game winner.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first 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 21 on the 2017 MLS Season, we take a look at Justin Meram’s 65th minute deflected goal that put Crew SC up 1-0 as part of the win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the finish from the Columbus winger (with some help from a Philadelphia center back).

The Black & Gold dominated much of the first 64 minutes of this match, with the Union showing very little interest in offense. But, Philadelphia’s defense stood resolute, shutting Crew SC out up until this point.

This goal is another good example of Gregg Berhalter’s system working well. After the throw in, Columbus passes the ball six times and six different players take a touch on the ball as it switches from one side of the field to the other, resulting in a fortuitous deflected goal for Meram.

This goal gets started on a Black & Gold throw in. Jukka Raitala plays the ball in from the left side and can play either Ola Kamara in the box, Kekuta Manneh on a short pass or Wil Trapp as a safety valve.

Raitala tosses the ball in to Trapp who quickly relays the ball back to rookie center-back Lalas Abubakar.

Abubakar then also has three options. As you will see multiple times in this goal, Philadelphia were content to sit back off of whomever had the ball. This cushion on defense provided the Crew SC attackers with ample space and multiple options at nearly every instance.

Here, Abubakar can make a pass back up to Trapp, put the ball in the middle of the field to Artur or play a difficult square pass to Jonathan Mensah.

Abubakar choses to pass the ball back to Trapp who again has a number of options: a back pass to Abubakar, a longer pass to Jonathan or a through ball to Artur. Again, look at the cushion that Trapp and his teammates have.

Trapp sends the ball over to Jonathan who has, take a guess, three options. Jonathan had a very good day with the ball at his feet, completing 84 precent of his passes and providing a few incisive balls on the offensive end including this next pass.

Jonathan can either pass right back to Trapp, send Artur forward with a through ball or pass to an unmarked Hector Jimenez.

Jonathan hits Jimenez on the wing, and Artur, desperately seeking the ball, heads towards Jimenez.

With no angle to Meram, Jimenez settles for Artur, whose movement has created space for a simple pass.

Finally in possession of the ball, Artur joins the three-options club but faces more defensive pressure than any of his teammates have thus far. To Artur’s left, Kekuta Manneh heads toward the ball. To Artur’s right is a safety valve in Jimenez. Meram is just upfield, astonishingly unmarked.

With the ball at his feet, Meram has nothing but the goal in front of him. However, because of his angle on the goal, he has to take the ball toward the center of the field and into the heart of the Union defense.

As Meram cuts in toward the goal, Philadelphia center back Jack Elliott aims to cut off his angle on goal, leaving Manneh open in the channel between the center backs. The Union’s other center back, Josh Yaro, attempts to get between Ola Kamara and Meram. Yaro succeeds, but ultimately is unable to play the ball anywhere other than the back of his own goal.

With his angle cut off by Elliott, Meram cuts to his left, across the face of the goal. Manneh is wide open for a pass in on goal while Yaro occupies space between Kamara and Meram.

Meram quickly has to decide whether he will slip a pass into Kamara or attempt a left-footed shot on goal.

Manneh continues his run as Meram decides to take a shot with his weak foot. Notice the positioning of Yaro’s right foot (the foot closest to the 18-yard line). Meram’s shot careens off that right foot and directly into the goal.

As you will see in the videos below, it looks unlikely that Meram’s shot was going anywhere other than in the path of Kamara or six yards to the left of the goal before it deflects off of Yaro’s foot and into the goal.

As Meram’s shot hits the back of the net, Crew SC go up 1-0 and never look back.

Now, let’s determine whether this goal, which was credited to Meram, should have instead been an own goal.

Above is the angle from the game camera. Here, you can see Meram’s shot heading toward Kamara and then hit Yaro’s foot. From this angle, it actually looks like Yaro moves his right foot toward his own goal, redirecting Meram’s errant shot at his goal keeper.

Let’s look next at the angle from the sideline. At this angle, it’s hard to tell whether Meram had fired in a left-footed meathook or if Yaro’s foot actually redirected the ball into the goal.

In the above still from the sideline, you can just see the ball before it hits Yaro’s foot. If you draw a line from Meram to the ball, and then extend that line on the same angle, Meram’s shot would have landed somewhere between the penalty box and the edge of the 18. Even if Meram does get some rotation on the ball, it would still be closer to the edge of the penalty box than to the goal.

This angle suggests to me that Meram was playing a hard pass into the path of Ola Kamara.

Comparing this image to the image before it strikes Yaro’s foot, the ball shifts direction by nearly 45 degrees. This looks like an own goal to me.

From this final angle, it’s clear that the ball is absolutely heading wide of the goal. Yaro significantly redirects the ball and somehow is not credited for the own goal.

Findings:

  1. This goal is yet another example of the Berhalter system working well, and one of the first this season without Federico Higuain. Six passes and six different players take the ball from one side of the field to the other, with Artur’s incisive pass springing Meram in on goal.
  2. Philadelphia’s defense giving nearly every Crew SC player a significant cushion is partially responsible for this goal, but Columbus showed excellent patience in cycling the ball around until the right pass was available.
  3. In my opinion, Meram was lucky to have been credited with the goal. However, he did exactly what he should have done here by smashing the ball across the goal in a crowded box.