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Anatomy of a Goal: Higuain’s magic gives Crew SC a brief lead

This week we look at Pipa’s brilliant strike from an otherwise forgettable match.

MLS: Columbus Crew at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from Columbus Crew SC‘s previous match.

For match 33 of the 2017 MLS season, we take a look at Federico Higuain’s magical 54th minute free kick that gave Crew SC a 1-0 lead as part of the team’s 2-1 loss to Orlando City SC on Sunday.

Here’s a look at the goal from Columbus’s maestro.

After an early barrage of corner kicks, the Black & Gold were held scoreless for a relatively uneventful first half. It began to seem like Crew SC might never score another goal from open play when this sequence began.

Pipa’s goal begins with a Jonathan Mensah throw-in at midfield. Jonathan tosses the ball in to Wil Trapp.

Trapp, after a clumsy touch, has time to turn. Milton Valenzuela runs up the left flank while Pedro Santos camps out, unmarked, on the edge of the final third of the field.

Trapp turns up the field and plays an incisive pass to Santos.

Santos carries the ball into the space between Scott Sutter and Shane O’Neill. Orlando lined up in a 3-4-3, so Sutter, as the furthest wide defender, must decide whether to help cut off Santos’ path towards the goal or to shift out onto an unmarked Valenzuela.

Both Sutter and O’Neill commit to Santos and leave Valenzuela to run free up the left flank. Now Santos must decide if he will attempt to drive between both defenders or if he will slide a quick pass out in front of Valenzuela.

Santos takes the most difficult option and attempts to dribble right between O’Neill and Sutter. Santos takes an intentionally heavy touch and looks to chase the ball forward into the goal box.

The winger’s touch appears to be much too heavy, but he is sent tumbling to the ground and a foul is given on O’Neill. The Lions are not happy with this call.

From a closer angle you can see Santos touch the ball right between O’Neill and Sutter. As he does, O’Neill sticks his entire leg out toward Crew SC’s winger.

O’Neill’s thigh meets Santos’s knee, sending him tumbling. This is clearly a foul.

Both Higuain and Santos line up on either side of the ball for the free kick. If Santos plays the ball, he will most likely send a left-footed pass that curls toward the right corner and looks to find the head of Gyasi Zardes, Jonathan, or Gaston Sauro. If Higuain plays the ball, he’ll either take a direct shot or send a lofted, right-footed pass that loops toward the back post.

Santos starts his run up to the ball to either hit a left-footed curling pass or make a run over the ball, allowing Higuain to take the kick.

As Santos runs to and over the ball, Artur and Zardes make quick runs and then stop. Both Jonathan and Sauro stay still. It appears that this was a designed play. By making quick runs, the Crew SC attackers draw the attention of Orlando goalkeeper Adam Grinwis. You can clearly see Grinwis looking to Artur and Zardes rather than at the ball that Higuain will soon hit toward the goal.

Anticipating a cross that is never played, Grinwis takes a few steps toward the back post. Higuain approaches the ball and has three options. He can either shoot the ball, play a lofted pass toward the back post or play a through pass to Artur.

Higuain decides to take a shot on goal. For this shot to work, Higuain has to get the ball up over the wall and then back down into the goal before Grinwis, who is distracted by Artur, is able to make a play.

Columbus’ No. 10 lofts the ball up at the wall. Grinwis still hasn’t made a move toward the near post.

Both Dom Dwyer and Oriol Rosell jump toward Higuain’s shot in an attempt to deflect the ball.

However, the ball sails over their head. Higuain must have hit the ball with enough topspin if he hopes to get the shot down and into the goal.

Indeed the ball does have enough topspin. Grinwis dives toward the ball but has put himself too far toward the back post and watches the ball curl . . .

. . . into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. Santos took a very heavy touch in his attempt to beat two Orlando players and was bailed out by the foul.
  2. The excellent half-runs by Artur and Zardes pulled Grinwis just far enough to the left that he would be unable to save Pipa’s free kick.
  3. Higuain’s free kick was another work of art from the Argentine maestro.