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Fullback success leads to Crew SC success

With Afful’s goal against the Earthquakes, both of Crew SC’s fullbacks have already scored this season.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Harrison Afful has been an important piece of Columbus Crew SC’s offensive system since he joined the club in the 2015 season. In 2018, however, things were going a little differently for the Ghanaian fullback.

A FIFA World Cup veteran, Afful entered his ninth match in 2018 against the San Jose Earthquakes, last Saturday, with no goals or assists registered. It was not for lack of trying, though, as the right back is the defender with most shots in the entire league with 20 attempts so far since the start of the season.

Against the Quakes, though, Afful finally managed to put his stamp on the team’s score sheet as he fired a powerful short-range shot to score Crew SC’s first goal in the 2-1 victory.

“It feels great to get a goal,” he said after the match. “I saw the spacing and the timing of my run was perfect. The pass from Higuain was super and I took a good touch. I just lifted up my head and the position of the goalkeeper was enough.”

The goal had an interesting peculiarity as the play started from the left side of Crew SC’s attack, with Milton Valenzuela. The Argentinean, who is in his first season with the team, was awarded a secondary assist on the goal, his second in the season, to go with his one goal.

Having both fullbacks inside the penalty box more often has been an insistent request of head coach Gregg Berhalter since the start of the year. For him, the circumstances of the game facilitated the development of the play that led to Afful’s goal, which, for him, should have been executed more times last Saturday.

“To me, the game was about being able to access our fullbacks because of how wide open they were, and we did not do that well enough,” the coach added. “The play that came to the goal, it should have happened eight more times. In the second half, Harrison got in a couple of times. I mean, that was it right there, getting around the edge of their defense; they played narrow, getting around that edge and getting the ball into the penalty box.”

However, seeing both fullbacks involved in plays that led to goals for the first time in the season was reassuring for Berhalter. Knowing that a big portion of the team’s success is determined by how much involved Afful and Valenzuela get in the game, the coach expects to see more from both of them in the upcoming weeks.

“There has to be more,” he commented. “That’s our game. Our game revolves around our fullbacks being dynamic and choosing moments that can hurt the opponent and surprise the opponent. So, when we’re evaluating, when we create profiles for our positions, the fullbacks have a part of their attributes that are offensive.”