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Anatomy of a Goal: Zardes powers home Pipa’s flick

This week we look at Gyasi Zardes’s finish of a brilliant team goal from the second round of the MLS Playoffs.

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-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 the second match of the 2018 MLS Playoffs, we take a look at Gyasi Zardes’ 61st minute goal, off of an exceptional pass from Federico Higuain, that gave Crew SC a 1-0 lead that would hold for a victory against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.

Here’s a look at the game-winning goal from the Columbus striker.

Columbus followed up last week’s outstanding match with another even more outstanding game. Manager Gregg Berhalter began the match with the talisman, Higuain, on the bench, providing some much-needed rest for the the mid-thirties No. 10 after going the full 120 minutes against D.C. United. In his place, Berhalter started rookie Luis Argudo and striker Patrick Mullins.

Listed as a 4-2-3-1, this lineup looked much more like a 4-4-2 with Zardes pushing up with Mullins and Argudo sliding out wide.

After an impressive, scoreless, half, Berhalter subbed on Higuain for Mullins and the Black & Gold dropped into their typical formation.

Crew SC’s goal provides a great look into the team’s plan to escape the Red Bulls’ press. With some quick movements, Columbus are able to use the New York press’ over-commitment to certain areas as an advantage.

For this week’s “Anatomy of a Goal” I want to give a quick thanks to the Reddit Soccer community (and user Meladroit40) for posting a long highlight from this goal.

Zardes’ goal starts with a pass from Zack Steffen up to Wil Trapp. After a few passes, Jonathan Mensah ends up with the ball on the right flank. Just ahead, Harrison Afful will drop back from his high and wide position in order to receive a pass. Argudo and Artur provide short options in the middle while Higuain is available over the top of the initial press.

Notice how New York has lined up. Their goal on this play is to keep the ball pinned to that right side and either force a turnover or win a throw in. Striker Bradley Wright-Phillips gets right in the passing lane between Jonathan and Trapp as Kaku attempts to prevent the center back from passing to either Argudo or Artur. Left winger Daniel Royer plays just off of Afful. It appears that the Red Bulls want to force a pass to Afful and then collapse on him and force a back pass or a turnover.

Sean Davis, a central midfielder, is key to the success or failure of this press. In this press-break mode, Columbus tucks Argudo inside as another sort of center midfielder. By doing this, Davis must now decide whether to mark Argudo or Artur. If he chooses wrong, the Black & Gold can exploit his decision and create open space in the center of the field.

Jonathan plays a quick pass up the sideline to Afful, just like the Red Bulls planned. Royer immediately heads toward Afful to provide pressure. Davis has committed to Argudo, who will now head up the sideline into the space vacated by Afful. Now, Artur is left alone in the middle of the field.

Afful receives the ball under pressure and must immediately decide what to do. He can play a pass right back to Jonathan, attempt to dribble out of danger or play a quick and simple square pass to a wide-open Artur.

Afful makes the safest decision and plays a quick pass to Artur.

With Sean Davis up the field marking Argudo, Artur now has time and space with which to make his decision. His options are numerous. He can play a quick drop pass to Trapp or a similar pass back to Josh Williams on the wing. Artur can also knock a long, field-switching pass to Milton Valenzuela, carry the ball forward, play a through pass to Argudo or play a diagonal back to Afful who has lost Royer.

Artur sees the chance to switch fields quickly and plays a long, accurate pass to Valenzuela.

Valenzuela is easily able to control Artur’s pass and then turns up the field.

Pressure arrives from Alex Muyl and Valenzuela must now decide what to do. He can play a through pass into a tight window for Justin Meram, play an even tighter through pass for Higuain or carry the ball forward.

Valenzuela opts for the most difficult, but direct, option and plays an inch-perfect pass to Higuain.

The clip above shows an alternative angle of Valenzuela’s pass. The pass JUST misses the foot of Tyler Adams before reaching Higuain. The Columbus No. 10 has to briefly slow down to receive the pass but can turn if he desires.

As Valenzuela’s pass approaches, Higuain must decide what to do. He can can play a diagonal up the field to Meram, turn the ball toward the goal or attempt an absurd back-heel flick to Zardes.

Higuain, of course, chooses the most difficult option and plays a one-touch back-heel flick right into the path of Zardes.

In the clip above you can see that Higuain is able to both redirect the ball and add pace to Valenzuela’s initial pass. Higuain knows that Zardes will continue his run and flicks the ball right into the path of his striker.

Zardes approaches the ball and must quickly get off a shot before he is caught by Davis.

Zardes does not take a touch on the ball but rather looks to fire a one-time shot around Luis Robles while Davis tries to get a foot in front of the ball.

Zardes beats both Davis and Robles, sending a tough shot do the right of the Red Bulls’ keeper. . .

. . . and into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. This goal provides the blueprint for success against New York’s press. Crew SC baited the Red Bulls into committing and then quickly switched the field of play once they had a chance.
  2. From Artur to Valenzuela to Higuain to Zardes, every pass or shot is extremely accurate. Including Valenzuela’s gutsy pass, there are only three touches on the ball from Valenzuela’s foot to the back of the net.
  3. Higuain’s flick was a piece of individual brilliance from an attacker playing some of his best soccer of the year. For Columbus to continue its streak deeper into the playoffs, they will have to have continued contributions from their maestro.
  4. Zardes’ shot also deserves credit. He hits a one-touch shot into the perfect spot just to the left of Robles.