The task of qualifying for the 2018 MLS Playoffs once seemed an easy task for Columbus Crew SC. In recent weeks the task grew more daunting, losses to the Montreal Impact and Orlando City SC stalled the Black & Gold’s playoff aspirations and lead to a critical match against Minnesota United on Sunday afternoon.
The Loons (11-19-3) sit in ninth place in the Western Conference and haven’t shaken off their “sophomore slump.” The season began in an less than ideal manner, as Minnesota lost offensive threats Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino early on with both forwards tearing ACLs. The Loons remain plagued by inconsistent defensive play and lack a sustainable offense. Despite these facts, they come into MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday afternoon content with playing the role of spoiler.
Loons at a glance
Leading Scorer: Darwin Quintero (11)
Assists Leader: Darwin Quintero (14)
Defensively it’s been a season to forget for head coach Adrian Heath and Minnesota United. The Loons have conceded 68 goals this season due porous defense and lackluster goalkeeping. In their last three matches, Minnesota has yet to demonstrate an effective defense against long balls over the top of the defense.
The center backs aren’t going to win any footraces against the competition and as a result this generates great scoring opportunities for the opposition. Furthermore, the Loons are extremely aggressive when it comes to tackling in an around the penalty box.
This is an area in which Minnesota needs to drastically improve. In the last three matches, the Loons have let the opposition run wild on restarts, corner kicks and counter attacks. This was especially evident in their match on Oct. 6 against the Philadelphia Union, Minnesota gave up an alarming five goals to the surging Eastern Conference team.
The Loons need to do a better job of bumping attackers off their runs and generally just making scoring opportunities more difficult for the opposition. Should the Minnesota tighten up on the basics, they would be a much better soccer team.
How Crew SC win
Columbus could thrive in this match by hitting long balls over the top of the defense and running directly at the center backs. Should Crew SC opt to attack down the wings, they shouldn’t struggle with generating offensive production. Solid crosses into the middle of the penalty area (zone two or zone three for my tactics wizards) should create terrific opportunities.
The Loons don’t bump opposing players off their runs and allow players to run free. A patient attack will allow the Black & Gold the ability to pray on the aggressiveness of the defense. Quick precise movement of the ball in and around the eighteen will create great scoring opportunities as Crew SC look to finally clinch a spot in the 2018 MLS Playoffs.