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Anatomy of a Goal: Villalba’s Dagger

This week, we look at how a defensive breakdown lead to Villalba’s second goal.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-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 19 of the 2017 MLS Season, we take a look at Hector Villalba’s 64th minute goal that put Atlanta United up 2-0 as part of their win over Crew SC on Saturday.

Here is a look at the finish from the Atlanta winger.

Though Columbus dominated possession for much of the first half, the team never really threatened Atlanta. Usually possession oriented, the Five Stripes were happy to lose the possession battle with the Black and Gold, instead focusing on long balls into open spaces. Just like Nathaniel Marhefka predicted in his lineup preview, Atlanta exploited the space vacated by Crew SC’s attack-minded right winger and right fullback. Villalba’s second goal is a direct result of the Five Stripes getting into the vacant space on the Columbus defensive right.

As usual, Nate absolutely nailed his focal area when he said to “expect a ‘tug-of-war’ between [Harrison] Afful and [Ethan] Finlay for Crew SC & [Yamil] Asad and [Greg] Garza for Atlanta United.”

Atlanta’s second goal begins with their No. 10, Miguel Almiron, receiving the ball just inside the Black and Gold’s defensive half. Marked by Wil Trapp, Almiron has three options. He can continue his dribble, make a quick pass straight ahead to Greg Garza, or play a long pass to Yamil Asad into the space behind Harrison Afful.

Almiron opts for the more difficult pass over the top. Asad has already begun his run and will easily beat Afful, who gets caught sitting back on his heels.

Asad is by Afful before the ball hits the ground. If Asad is able to cleanly play the ball then he’ll have an easy chance on goal.

Lucky for Crew SC, Asad badly misplays the ball. Instead of letting the ball run ahead of him, the midfielder attempts to control the ball as it lands, sending it behind him. Defender Josh Williams, just to the right of Asad, does a good job to get near the Atlanta attacker, causing him to take that extra touch.

With the ball heading away from the Columbus goal, both Afful and Williams are in position to make a quick clearance before Asad can recover. Striker Josef Martinez has his own idea, and quickly moves toward the loose ball. Somehow, Martinez beats both Williams and Afful, neither of whom try to play the ball. Instead, both Black & Gold defenders act surprised at the misplay by Asad and fall back on defense rather than playing the ball back up the field.

Meanwhile, Artur, just beside the referee, hustles back.

Having beaten Afful and Williams to the ball, Martinez can either continue his dribble up the field, play a pass to Garza running up the wing or slot a pass to Asad. The pressure from Artur and Williams will force Martinez to play the ball out to Garza on the wing, away from his own goal.

As Garza receives the ball and is marked by Afful, he will fire a cross into the Crew SC goal box. Atlanta has three players (from left to right: Martinez, Asad and Villalba) in the area to receive Garza’s cross. Three Columbus defenders (from left to right: Williams, Jonathan Mensah and Jukka Raitala) are in good positions to deny the Five Stripes’ attackers.

Williams is in the perfect position to win Garza’s cross and sends a headed ball out to the top of the 18-yard box. Jonathan makes an awkward hop at the ball, but provides cover were Williams to miss his clearance.

This is an excellent bit of defensive coverage from the Black & Gold, calmly marking Atlanta’s attackers and clearing out a goal-scoring opportunity. Sadly, the Crew SC defense will be let down by their inability to stop the next cross.

That red highlighted blur is Almiron, who ran in from the midfield to win Williams’s clearance right in front of Kekuta Manneh. Either by lack of communication or lack of awareness, Manneh totally missed Almiron running right toward the ball. Had he notice Almiron before the Atlanta attacker won the ball, Manneh could have made a clearance or quick pass to a wide open Trapp.

Having won the ball, Almiron will drive directly at Artur.

If Artur can slow or dispossess Almiron, he will have multiple passing options to start a counterattack. If Almiron beats Artur, Columbus will face another defensive scramble.

As the above video shows, Artur halfheartedly stabs at Almiron and is beaten by the Five Stripes attacker, setting up an Atlanta cross.

Having blown by Artur, Almiron, with a difficult angle on goal, faces immediate pressure from Williams. The Five Stripes’ No. 10 will likely have to send a cross into the box.

Just below Almiron is Asad, who is not yet marked by Trapp and is wide open for a slotted pass to his feet. Martinez is available at the near post, but is marked by, the taller Jonathan. Villalba is at the top of the 18, and should be marked by Raitala if he makes a move toward goal.

As Almiron chips in his cross, the Black & Gold have Atlanta’s two options covered. Almiron’s decision to cross has taken Asad out of the immediate picture, and he will likely be pressured by Trapp if the ball pops out. Jonathan lets Martinez in behind him, but has six inches on the Atlanta striker. Raitala is aware of Villalba’s position and has him covered. . . for now.

From the side angle, you can see that most of Atlanta’s attackers are covered. If Almiron were able to turn his hips quickly enough, he would have an easy pass right to the feet of Asad. However, things change as soon as the ball is played.

Just before the ball is played, Martinez floats a few feet behindJonathan. As the ball floats into the face of the goal, the center back fails to find Martinez and misjudges where the ball will land, allowing the shorter Martinez to contest him for a header. Raitala, unsure of what to do, sprints back toward the goal, leaving Villalba totally alone.

Comparing this image to the image above, you can see that Raitala has moved about two yards toward the goal, and is standing on the top line of the 6-yard box.

Though Jonathan misjudged the ball, he is able to contest Martinez’s header, deflecting the ball out into the path of Villalba. Seeing the ball bounce out, Raitala oddly decides to keep heading toward the goal and plants his feet right on the goal line.

In the above video, you can clearly see Raitala sprint back toward his goal like he thinks the ball is heading right into the net. It seems Raitala thought that he needed to cover the back post of the goal, which seems odd given Steffen not having come off his line and Jonathan being in position to deflect the cross.

With his main defensive threat inexplicably standing on the goal line, Villalba moves toward the ball headed right into his path. Jonathan is forced to scramble into Villalba’s path.

Villalba has ample time to settle the bouncing ball as Jonathan scrambles to defend.

Jonathan is able to get in a decent position but is just a half second too late to block Villalba’s shot . . .

. . . and Atlanta takes a 2-0 lead.


  1. Just like Nathaniel predicted, Atlanta attacked the vacant spaces on the attacking left/defensive right, leading to the Five Stripes’ dagger into the heart of this match.
  2. Artur’s stab showed one spot of weakness in the Crew SC’s bright young stars. Artur had to at least get a body in front of Almiron, but instead throws out a leg and is easily beaten.
  3. Jonathan is not really to blame on this goal, but his multiple misjudgings of balls played in the air was very strange. As a tall center-back, Jonathan has had years of judging lofted balls, and to make multiple mistakes on these balls in the air is disconcerting.
  4. Raitala’s sprint toward the goal is mystifying. It may have made sense if this were a broken play or if Steffen were off his line, but that isn’t the case. Raitala absolutely should have stuck with Villalba, and doing so might have prevented this goal.