It’s been a while since Columbus Crew SC was a real danger on goals from set pieces, but this season that has started to change
With eight of its 43 Major League Soccer goals in 2017 coming from dead ball opportunities Crew SC sits in the top half of the league in this category according to WhoScored.com.
What has given the team a boost in the set piece department this season is the return of playmaker Federico Higuain from an injury-plagued 2016 and the recent addition of Portuguese winger Pedro Santos. And the duo have shown their ability recently.
Against Dallas, Higuain found Jonathan Mensah free to score what was ultimately the game-winning goal on the far post from a free kick on the right side of the box. Two weeks later it was Santos who fed Ola Kamara at the near post from a corner kick.
"It's important in the game because if we do well in set pieces, we can score many goals,” Santos said after the SKC match. “We train every week. I think it’s important for us, corner goals or set pieces, because when we have difficult games, we can score goals from set pieces.”
That was exactly what happened last Sunday at MAPFRE Stadium. Crew SC trailed against the best defensive team in the league and used its set pieces to even the match with Sporting in a crucial moment.
“We identified a spot where we thought they’d be vulnerable in and it was a great ball in by Pedro,” head coach Gregg Berhalter comment. “But it comes down to the guys executing, the guys making good runs and good service and we had that in that play, for sure.”
The Portuguese’s addition strengthened even more Crew SC’s dead ball game, as Santos now shares the role of taking free kicks and corner kicks with Federico Higuaín who enthusiastically celebrated with him after last Sunday’s assist.
While the Argentinean is right-footed and possesses superb technique for short range strikes, Santos uses his left foot to cross and can attempt shots from long distance as well.
“He (Pedro) gives us variation,” Kamara noted. “He has a gifted left foot and we do a lot of set pieces. They hit it differently too so teams also have to prepare for two different types of set pieces. I think this is good.”
With two talented options now on the roster, Berhalter knows that the team can be more and more dangerous on these plays. According to the head coach, the recent goals scored by the Black & Gold already changed the players approach to dead ball situations.
“It definitely sparks us,” Berhalter admitted. “When you look at, now, the commitment of the runners, it’s changed because they know that a good ball is coming. I’m doing everything that I can to get in free space because the ball can get hit accurately and hard. It’s a difficult ball to defend.”
With five games left in the regular season, Crew SC need every point it can manage in a tight Eastern Conference.
Having two players that can provide such dangerous service make the club that much more dangerous down the stretch and could be a bonus in the MLS Cup playoffs.