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Massive Tactics: Vancouver Whitecaps seek to disrupt the Columbus Crew SC run

Projected Lineups and tactics talk before Saturday’s match!

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Wil Trapp will be back in action Saturday for Crew SC to take on Yordy Reyna and the Whitecaps
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC (3-0-1) come back to Ohio on Saturday to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1-1), as the Canadian side looks to find the team’s form of their opening two matches.

Columbus has never beaten Vancouver under head coach Gregg Berhalter, with a 2-0-2 record against the Black & Gold over the last our seasons. The two victories for the Whitecaps actually both came in Columbus with the two draws out west.

The form against Columbus comes as no surprise for those who follow the team closely. Crew SC prefer a slow buildup and possession-style play that has major vulnerabilities on the counter and is susceptible to the press. Carl Robinson’s team has historically excelled at both.

For the away team, that gives options on how to approach this match. Do they sit back defensively, absorb what Columbus throws at them and counter with their pacy wingers Alphonso Davies and Cristian Techera? Or do they seek to press, negating the Columbus attack and try and grab a goal or two from turnovers?

It really is tough to call, as both would be viable options in this match, but I am going to side with the latter. Columbus may be vulnerable on the counter attack in past years but Berhalter has seemingly cleaned that up from the organizational mess it once was, but the team still shows a lot of weakness dealing with the high press.

I expect Josh Williams to start this match alongside Jonathan Mensah at center back. I thought the change may have happened two matches ago, but now that Williams is 100 percent (not to mention being subbed on at halftime for Lalas Abubakar last week) I think slotting him into the starting XI would be a great move this match. Williams is very comfortable on the ball, having played outside back a large portion of his career, and his composure will be crucial if Vancouver is to press high up the pitch.

Projected Starting Lineup for Crew SC

While we are on the subject, let’s lay out the assumed starting XI for the Black & Gold.

In goal after returning from international duty should be Zack Steffen. In front of him will likely be a backline of Milton Valenzuela, Jonathan, Williams and Harrison Afful. Look for Valenzuela to find a lot of running room in this match with Techera likely on his side of the pitch.

In the midfield anchor Artur is likely to partner once again with Wil Trapp, and in front of them a trio of Cristian Martinez, Federico Higuain, and Pedro Santos with Gyasi Zardes starting in the striker role.

The same lineup as last week, just with the one defensive change and with the national team players reinserted. I would expect Martinez to once again start on the left flank after a positive performance against D.C. United. Pedro Santos wrecks havoc when he is on the right side of the pitch and is much more damaging in that role, so if Martinez can hold his own this attack can unleash another two or three goals.

Crew SC 4-2-3-1 v. Whitecaps 4-1-4-1 “box”
Nathaniel Marhefka

Projected Starting Lineup for Vancouver

The Whitecaps have a much more difficult lineup to predict, having used three different formations this season, and featuring 16 different starters.

Despite the uncertainty, I do think Robinson has a preferred starting lineup with the players that are healthy.

Expect a 4-1-4-1 in this match. We saw a three-man backline against Atlanta United but several teams have used a similar tactic against Tata Martino’s club because they themselves use a 3-5-2.

In the anchor of midfield I would expect Felipe to start after a very strong performance in a dull match against the LA Galaxy. In front of him should be the aforementioned Davies and Techera on the wings, with newcomer Efrain Juarez and Yordy Reyna in the center of midfield.

In this midfield, Felipe will only venture forward when a counter-attacking opportunity is wide open, with Juarez as a box-to-box runner, and Reyna as almost an auxiliary midfielder where he will assume a lot of attacking and creative duties.

As the target man, it’s none other than Kei Kamara. That’s enough said.

In the backline, Kendall Waston returns from international duty after his red card two weeks ago was overturned. His center back pairing is a toss up between Jose Aja and Aaron Maund, but I think Maund is the slightly better of the two and has more playing time with Waston.

Wingbacks will likely feature Marcel De Jong and Jakob Nerwinski. Nerwinski is an interesting player to watch this match. He plays nearly as an inverted wingback and as Vancouver plays down the left half of the pitch. You will see him come very near to support, often in the same half of the pitch as De Jong.

A little tactics talk

Vancouver plays what I call a 4-1-4-1 “box”. Watching the match, you’ll understand what I mean if you look at the positioning of the back line in the attack. The wing backs advance vertical and inside, as the center backs split wide. This creates a “box” where there is a player at each of the 90 degree angles and the anchor midfielder (likely Felipe) is free to move anywhere inside the box during build up. By doing this, it allows very compact play with a large amount of verticality to advance quickly into the attacking end.

Crew SC’s Match to Lose

I do think that at this stage Columbus is the better team and is deservant of a win on home turf, but Robinson’s side may have some clever tricks to grab a surprise victory away from home. For Crew SC, it is their match to lose in the sense that a loss would likely come from turnovers and critical errors by the backline.

However, if Vancouver do decide to press, I would expect theirs to be a lot more cohesive than the one we saw in Philadelphia. But thankfully Trapp is back in action to shore things up a bit.