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Anatomy of a Goal: Abubakar wins it with a smashing header

This week we look at Lalas Abubakar’s 85th minute header.

MLS: Columbus Crew at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-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 match 13 of the 2018 MLS Season, we take a look at center back Lalas Abubakar’s rocket header that put Crew SC up 1-0 as part of their win over the New England Revolution on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the finish from the Columbus defender.

Today’s breakdown will be a little shorter than normal because there isn’t a lot of build up on a corner kick. Nonetheless, this play provides a valuable look at the Black & Gold’s strategy on these set plays.

Through most of this match, both teams struggled to find chances. Crew SC continued to display resolute team defense but were unable to break through for a goal. As the game neared it’s end, it looked like Columbus would be content to escape Foxborough with a valuable road point.

Six Black & Gold players are directly involved in this corner kick. They’ve been highlighted in the image above.

There are three key aspects of this corner kick. First, Gyasi Zardes and Jonathan Mensah swapping spots to try and confuse their defenders. Next, the pattern of the runs by the Crew SC attackers. Finally the screen that Zardes sets for Abubakar.

Notice the position of Jonathan and Zardes in the image above. Zardes camped out in the middle of the penalty box as Federico Higuain set up the corner kick. The Columbus striker looks to the top of the box and sees Abubakar motioning for Jonathan to head toward the middle of the box. Zardes replaces Jonathan at the top.

It may not have been intentional, but shifting spots like this helps determine what sort of defense is being utilized (zone vs. man). Additionally, there is always the chance that the defenders get turned around attempting to make sure that each opponent is marked.

Above, Zardes heads toward Abubakar to join in the stacked formation at the top of the penalty box while Jonathan heads into the crowded middle of the box.

As Jonathan and Zardes arrive in their new positions, their defenders both go with them, indicating a man-to-man defensive set up (though, hopefully that had been determined before the 85th minute). All three of the Black & Gold’s aerial targets are currently marked.

As Zardes engages with his defender, Abubakar cleverly uses this struggle for position as a screen around Jalil Anibaba. The Crew SC center back takes a few steps back and to the left, forcing Anibaba to either go under this screen or chase him around the screen. Abubakar is only about one inch taller than Anibaba, so any additional advantage he can get on a header will be important.

The image above shows the movement of each Columbus player on this corner kick. Artur heads toward the corner flag and seems tasked with flicking a header back into play. Jonathan runs right up the center of the penalty box, attempting to head any kicks to the middle into the back of the net. Grella holds his position in an attempt to clean up any loose balls that get flicked or deflected into play.

At the top of the penalty box, Zardes fights with his defender for position while setting a screen for Abubakar (intentionally or unintentionally). After getting position, Zardes heads toward Grella to clean up balls that make it to back into the box. Future goalscorer Abubakar makes a quick looping run around Zardes and right to the near post, acting as a direct target like Jonathan.

As Abubakar makes his way around Zardes, Anibaba decides to go under this screen. By using his teammate as a screen, Abubakar has created multiple yards of space between him and his defender and has allowed himself to get at full pace, which will add to the effectiveness of his headed shot.

Lalas cuts forward as Anibaba struggles to catch up with the center back. Wilfried Zahibo, playing as a safety just to the left of Matt Turner, attempts to aid in the defense of Abubakar.

Abubakar runs free as he lines up the flight of Higuain’s corner kick.

As the ball travels right toward Abubakar, the Columbus center back has excellent position in front of Anibaba, rendering his defense ineffective. Zahibo attempts to get to Abubakar but isn’t able to reach him before the ball.

Lalas redirects his momentum through the ball on a free header, sending a shot right at the near post.

New England have two defenders right in line to stop Abubakar’s header, but the shot is too hard for either to react quickly, sending the ball . . .

. . . into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. Abubakar’s use of Zardes as a screen was a brilliant way to get an open run on the header. Zardes looked to intentionally create chaos with his defender, and if you asked him I bet he’d say that definitely meant to set a screen.
  2. The header is an absolute rocket that easily beats two defenders. Excellent game by Lalas.