Columbus Crew SC’s offensive production has cooled off over the last weeks. In the first four matches of the 2018 Major League Soccer season, the Black & Gold netted eight goals. In the last four, the team was only able to find the back of the net three times, one of which was scored by the opposition.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter has already made some experiments to try to give the team an offensive boost, such as stating Niko Hansen over Cristian Martinez last Saturday against the New England Revolution, but part of the solutions to Crew SC’s recent struggles might be right under his nose.
An important piece of Columbus’ defensive system, midfielder Artur entered his second season with the club willing to be helpful also in the offensive end and if his potential can be unleashed, that could be a massive benefit for the Black & Gold as the season progresses.
“The more help we can get up front the better will be for us,” Artur said. “I am able to sprint back and return to my spot quickly if we lose the ball, so I’ll keep trying to push forward and to get better on that. There’s some stuff I still need to improve on my offensive game and once I clear that, I’ll be able to help the team even more when attacking.”
After a quick look on Artur’s stats, it’s easy to notice how much he’s trying to make his offensive game better in 2018. Last season, the 22-year-old Brazilian notched one goal, three assists and 21 shots over 27 matches. In 2018, he is yet to score after eight matches, but he has already produced two assists and 13 shots.
Against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Artur almost scored on a header that hit the crossbar.
So close to equalizing!#CrewSC | #CLBvVAN pic.twitter.com/WjV3znm67r— Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) March 31, 2018
The most telling numbers, however, come from his possession game. In 2017, Artur averaged 46.8 passes per game, according to WhoScored.com. This season, he’s passing the ball 66.5 times every match, an increase of over 40 percent.
“My main strength is my movement,” the midfielder commented. “I try to support the offense by overlapping and infiltrating into the box. I feel like I can improve in the final pass and on finishing. If I do that, and get better chemistry with our offensive players, I’ll be in good spots to score goals soon.”
Having a defensive midfielder who can impact the game in the offensive end is something Crew SC hasn’t had under Berhalter. Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani, who got most of the starts in the spots from 2014 to 2016, combined for seven goals and 23 assists in the three seasons.
As Crew SC has been playing under more or less the same system since 2014, adding a new dimension to the team’s attack could catch teams by surprise. That’s exactly what Artur wants to do, so be ready for more frequent runs into the penalty box and long-range shots from the Brazilian.
“Every time a player can get forward by surprise, it’s hard for defenses to adjust their positioning to it,” the Brazilian added. “If we can make our offense unpredictable for our opponents, that will certainly make things easier for us as they will need to be concerned about one more player.”
Artur’s offensive mindset has not impacted his defensive game so far, as his averages for tackles, interceptions and blocks are all higher than last season’s. However, the team needs to be ready to fill the space created when he rushes forward and Berhalter plans to do it in a variety of ways, as he noted after Saturday’s match.
“We have to be careful to maintain our balance, and you saw a couple times he (Artur) went forward, he had a great chance but they’re countering the other way,” the coach said. “We made some adjustments at halftime to keep balance, but in the first half I think it’s the recognition of who the guy is that goes forward, it’s our central midfielder, we need to balance out with one of our fullbacks.”
Crew SC needs to improve its offensive production and with not many pieces on the bench seeming to be able to do that, a few slight changes in the system could help. In Artur, the team has a player who is willing to help offensively and if the defensive system is ready to make up for his new role, the Black & Gold could quickly become a more dangerous opponent.