Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal from the previous week’s Columbus Crew SC match.
For match 16 on the 2018 MLS Season, we take a look at Gyasi Zardes’ 26th minute header that put Crew SC up 1-0 as part of the 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
The Black & Gold put together a dominant first 20 minutes against New York, coming just short of scoring a goal on multiple occasions, including two big chances by Zardes and a free kick off the post by Pedro Santos.
Zardes’ game-opening goal begins on a counter attack by Crew SC. Right back Harrison Afful carries the ball across the midfield line and heads into the space between Kemar Lawrence and Hassan Ndam.
Santos makes a wide run up the right flank while Zardes heads toward the back post of the goal. Federico Higuain holds his position in the middle of the field.
While Santos does not touch the ball on this sequence, and eventually gives up on the play, his wide run here is important. By staying wide, Santos occupies the attention of Lawrence. Above, it is clear that Lawrence is focused on Santos, allowing Afful to take an interior line behind the New York left back and toward the slower Ndam.
With Lawrence focused on Santos and Ndam eyeing Afful, Higuain is free to run into the space behind Ndam while Red Bull midfielder Sean Davis must scramble to cut off that angle. On the back side, Zardes is marked only by center back Aaron Long, a clear mismatch that favors the striker.
By staying wide, Santos has helped draw the New York defense to its left, creating large channels for Afful and Higuain to run in, and leaving Zardes marked by only one defender.
As Afful approaches Ndam, he must quickly decide what to do with the ball. He can either play a quick pass to Higuain, attempt to beat Ndam off the dribble or play a pass on the wing to Santos.
Afful opts for the short pass to Higuain and then continues his run toward the goal. Assuming that he’s stopped Afful, Ndam shifts his focus toward the crafy Columbus creator.
With a split second to thing, Higuain must decide what to do with Afful’s pass. He can either quickly switch the ball over to Zardes, carry the ball into the open space vacated by Davis and Ndam switching on the give-and-go, complete the give-and-go by playing a through pass to Afful or attempt a tricky pass up the wing to Santos.
With Davis and Ndam scrambling after having switched defensive responsibilities, Higuain fires a through pass to Afful, running the channel between Lawrence and Davis.
If Afful is able to corral the pass, he should have the opportunity to take a shot or to play a quick pass to Zardes, who has at least four yards of open space behind Long. If Santos were to cut in, he could also provide an outlet for Afful.
Unfortunately, Afful takes a heavy touch and sends the ball hurtling toward the goal line. On the far right side of the screen, Santos has stopped his run and holds his current position. Zardes, seeing the opportunity for a chipped cross, heads to the back post.
Though Afful’s touch was heavy, he sprints toward the ball, with a nearly two-yard lead on Davis. Zardes’ run toward the back post is unimpeded, as Long does not seem to have realized that the aerial threat is running unmarked behind him.
Just as Davis slows up, likely assuming the ball will roll out of play, Afful reaches the ball before it reaches the end line. Zardes camps out on the elbox of the six-yard box as Long still hasn’t noticed his presence.
To Davis’ surprise, Afful chips a cross over his outstretched leg. Zardes has time to watch the ball travel right toward his head as Long still hasn’t turned around.
Zardes lines up his attempt as Long tracks the flight of the ball, still not noticing the striker.
Finally, as he realizes the ball is traveling over his head, Long turns to see Zardes ready to hammer a shot at the goal.
Barely needing to move, Zardes lines up a shot at the New York goal. Luis Robles must scramble to protect his near post.
As the ball arrives, Zardes has at least three yards of space in which to place the ball at the near post.
Barely needing to move, Zardes snaps his neck to fire a header right toward the Red Bulls’ near post . . .
. . . and into the back of the net!
- Santos’ wide run opened up the field of play for the Black & Gold, using width to create gaps in the New York defensive line.
- Afful and Higuain play a near perfect give-and-go, which they’ve certainly practiced at Obetz.
- Despite the heavy touch that nearly sends the ball out for a goal kick, Afful is able to turn and hit a perfectly weighted ball at Zardes.
- Chances like this don’t come often, and Zardes makes the most of this opportunity by firing home a rocket-header.