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Tactical Preview: Crew SC in San Jose

Today’s tactical guide for battle against the Quakes

MLS: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes
Avaya Stadium
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC marches into sunny California for it’s third road match in a row. For the San Jose Earthquakes, they come off of a steady one-nil victory against the fellow Western Conference Colorado Rapids.

Today I will bring you the tactical projections for the match as lineups are announced. Consider this a guide to help follow the match closer.

Columbus Crew SC Tactics

Like the last few matches, the Black & Gold is going to aim to attack on the counter in their new preferred 3-4-2-1 shape. With Federico Higuain remaining on the sideline with injury, it has been head coach Gregg Berhalter’s method of spreading out some of the lost creative play to some of the wider players.

By deploying Justin Meram and Kekuta Manneh internally, it allows one of the two players to drift centrally during attacks to help facilitate offensive distribution into the offensive third. This allows less reliance on one player to be the primary creative output, but still, a lot of pressure is placed specifically on Justin Meram to really step up in chance creation.

Columbus Crew SC 3-4-2-1 vs. San Jose Earthquakes 3-5-2
Nathaniel Marhefka

Backline Back in Full Force

Last week, against Real Salt Lake, the Crew SC team was full of reserve players -- but not today. Five changes since last match; four of which are in the backline (5 man defense).

In the wingback positions, Waylon Francis and Connor Maloney make way for Jukka Raitala and Hector Jimenez, respectively. Maloney really impressed against RSL so I was personally sad to not see him in the lineup today, and I would expect Francis to join the match as a substitute at some point.

In the central defensive roles, Josh Williams is back on the bench as Jonathan Mensah is once again available after suspension.

Defensively, we can expect a slight stability improvement from last week but the ethos is much the same. Having the reinforcement of Jonathan against the aerial-strong San Jose attack could provide very useful.

The wingbacks provide more flexibility and experience in their positioning. Jimenez and Raitala are able to step into the center of midfield to provide strength in numbers and act almost as a central midfielder at times. This could come useful if the play adapts and San Jose’s style dictates such.

San Jose with a New Look

With a new manager in charge, San Jose has been experimenting with personnel and tactics in the last few matches. The most recent tinker has been a switch to a 3-5-2 with Chris Wondolowski and Marcos Urena (or Danny Hoesen) up top.

What this has provided them is better defensive stability with better positional control over their former 4-4-2. While the kinks may still somewhat be in the works, the team dominated the match against Colorado last week and were the true commanding force.

Darwin Ceren has been placed in the holding midfielder role so it will be neat to see how he manages the ebb-and-flow of the inter-changing Meram and Manneh when the Crew is attacking.

Expect some of the loose ends to be fixed as we see a more polished execution, but it will be very interesting the see how they manage against another 3-man / 5-man backline setup. It will change the entire dynamic of the game, and will be different from many in MLS, so I prepared a list of three things for you to look out for:

Match Guide

  • Wingback positioning for both teams — often, the dominating team finds a way to pin the opponent’s wingbacks deep, while maintaining positional superiority.
  • Numbers in the center — A large portion of matches come from the team that dominate the center of the pitch. Will San Jose’s three midfielders or Crew SC’s two prevail? What steps will Crew SC take to make up for this difference?
  • Capitalizing on small chances — Both teams like to possess, and play cautiously. This leads to the potential of very few clear-cut-chances on goal. Watch how the strikers take aim, and more importantly how they are supported. The team that gets more players involved in attacks is going to have a far greater chance of success.

So that’s it for today, if you are curious how to watch the match you can head over to our match thread.

If you want to see what our writers are predicting for today’s match you can check that out here.

Or if you’d like to continue your reading, Josh Mlot does really wonderful scouting reports, so you can learn a little more about this seldom-seen Western Conference team.