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Anatomy of a Goal: Right place, right time for Crognale

This week we look at Alex Crognale’s momentum-building goal.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Aaron Doster-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 15 of the 2018 MLS Season, we take a look at Alex Crognale’s 81st minute goal that brought Crew SC within a goal of Toronto FC (2-3) as part of the 3-3 draw on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the finish from the Columbus center-back.

An injury and national team duty depleted Black & Gold side struggled through the first two thirds of this match, trailing Toronto 3-0 after 60 minutes. But when Gregg Berhalter made three quick subs and switched the formation to a 3-4-2-1, the momentum began to shift and Crew SC, with nothing to lose, went on the attack.

Gyasi Zarde’s slam dunk on Michael Bradley provided a bump to Columbus’ morale, but the comeback was really on when Crognale took advantage of a Bradley turnover.

While this goal features only two passes, it provides a great look at a set piece play that the Black & Gold have clearly spent time practicing. Federico Higuain sends a high, looping pass to Josh Williams who is out wide on the left side. Williams then heads the ball back into the penalty box where two teammates crashed on the goal. Crognale and Harrison Afful both trail on this play, giving options to clean up loose balls in the box.

The image above is taken as Crew SC find their positions. Notice how wide Williams and Afful are on this play. By pushing wide, Williams and Afful either spread out the defense or might be able to sneak into the penalty box unmarked.

As Higuain makes his approach to the ball, both Afful and Williams have now been marked, thinning the Reds’ defensive lines. Afful’s marker is especially important. By setting up on the wide side of Crognale, Afful pulls in the defensive interest of Victor Vazquez. Crognale is now only marked by Nick Hagglund.

Here, you can see the runs that each Columbus player makes on this play. Afful and Williams make wide runs into the penalty box, Zardes, Crognale and Ricardo Clark make runs into the middle of the goal and Luis Argudo and Eduardo Sosa settle at the top of the penalty box.

Argudo is highlighted above because he occupies the defensive interest of Auro and Tossaint Ricketts, leaving Williams to be solely marked by Liam Fraser.

As Higuain sends the ball toward Williams, who immediately makes his run toward the back post area, Fraser must scramble to cover the Columbus center back’s run. Rickets and Auro both focus on defending Argudo despite the winger not being much of an aerial threat on this play.

Before we move on to the rest of the play, we should try to determine whether Williams might have been offside on this play. The image above is taken right as Higuain hits the ball. Hagglund and Williams are the furthest players forward.

The furthest relevant portion of Hagglund here looks like it is either right on, or just a few inches behind, the grass marking. The angle of this photo makes it appear that Williams is further ahead of Hagglund, but that is a trick of the perspective. From the above image, you can just barely see that Williams has not yet reached that marking. It’s really close, and difficult to determine definitively, but Williams is likely onside.

As the ball, highlighted in white, heads toward Williams, Clark continues his run toward the goal. On the other side of the box, Zardes and Crognale also head toward the goal. Crognale slows his run, trailing a bit behind Zardes.

During his run, Williams continually has his head turned toward the ball. Knowing that he might receive a lofted pass, Williams prepares to jump for the ball. The center back jumps as Fraser struggles to catch up to him.

From the side angle, you can see Williams running to receive the pass (and looking a lot like a wide receiver going up to catch a lofted throw by his quarter back). Fraser is clearly beaten.

Williams jumps and heads the ball back into the the middle of the penalty box as Fraser attempts to defend him. Unfortunately, Williams’ header drops right to the feet of Bradley. However, Crognale continues his run right into the path of Bradley’s first touch.

Let’s take a look at the video of Bradley’s poor first touch and Crognale’s finish before we analyze the still frames. Notice Bradley’s eyes on this play.

Bradley, not marking anyone specifically on this play, makes a defensive run right to the center of the goal. His run puts him right on target to receive Williams’ header.

Notice that Crognale is now unmarked. Hagglund has decided to run right to the goal line and finishes the play standing on the line watching Crognale’s shot beat his keeper.

From the side, we can see Bradley’s eyes as he goes to receive the ball. Looking at the ball, Bradley does not seem to be aware that Crognale is bearing down on his backside.

Bradley takes, what looks like, an intentionally heavy touch with his left foot, attempting to use his first touch to take the ball out from the middle of the goal rather than clearing it out.

With this touch, Bradley must shift his balance from his left foot to moving to his right. Crognale’s run had taken him right into the path of Bradley’s heavy touch, allowing him to beat the Toronto captain to the ball.

Crognale lines up his shot and smashes a one timer . . .

. . . into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. This was clearly a designed play, with Williams making a wide run that would allow him to head the ball back into the penalty box, creating chaos for the defense.
  2. Toronto makes multiple defensive mistakes, including leaving two defenders with Argudo and leaving Crognale unmarked after Williams’ headed pass.
  3. Crognale cleverly hits a one-time shot, taking a fortunate deflection into the net.