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Anatomy of a Goal: Zardes heads home his first goal of 2019

This week we look at Gyasi Zardes’ 26th minute header from a brilliant pass by Pedro Santos.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New England Revolution Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal from Columbus Crew SC‘s previous match.

For match two of the 2019 MLS season, we take a look at Gyasi Zardes’ 26th minute header that put the Crew up 1-0 as part of the 2-0 win over the New England Revolution on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the first goal from the Columbus striker.

Saturday’s match started a little differently than most fans of the Black & Gold would have expected with New England out-possessing the Crew during the first 10 minutes of the contest. Much of this may have been a conservative approach by head Caleb Porter and his team, looking to avoid giving up an early goal like they did in Week 1.

After this first segment, Columbus found their footing and began to employ some new wrinkles that Porter has added to the system. Zardes’ first goal shows an excellent example of one of those changes. The Black & Gold’s wingers have always switched sides of the field but the freedom to switch sides, drop deep to pick up the ball and play through the middle was more present last week than it has been in past seasons. On this goal, Pedro Santos, typically deployed on the right, is seen playing in the middle of the field and picks up his assist from the left side of the field. Let’s dive in.

Zardes’ goal begins with the ball played out of the back. Center back Gaston Sauro picks up the ball in a wider position as Wil Trap drops between Sauro and Jonathan Mensah, moving away from the double pivot often deployed last week against the New York York Red Bulls.

Sauro plays a simple pass forward to Artur, who is providing coverage should the Revolution employ their high press. Note the positioning of Waylon Francis on the wide left side of the field and Harrison Afful directly across from him on the right side. When on the attack, the outside backs were able to provide significant width against New England, spreading the defense and limiting the effectiveness of the high press.

Artur receives the ball and the Revolution begin to pressure him. The midfielder has four options: a slotted pass up the field to Federico Higuain, a chip over a defender to Jonathan, a drop back to Trapp or a pass right back to Sauro.

Seeing Higuain unmarked, Artur plays a quick pass up to his attacking teammate.

Higuain briefly carries the ball forward before spotting a New England defender and heading back toward the midfield line.

At midfield, Higuain drops the ball back to Jonathan to reset the attack. Trapp is still splitting the center backs.

Jonathan plays a diagonal pass back to Trapp, who has dropped deeper than both center backs which allows Artur to slot into Trapp’s previous spot.

With Artur beside him in an infrequently utilized back four, Justin Meram cycling into the center of the field and the Revolution providing defensive pressure, Trapp has a number of options. He can play a pass back to Jonathan on the right flank, a quick but dangerous touch to Artur, a diagonal ball up to Higuain in the same position he was earlier, a pass to Meram at midfield, a long ball to Francis who is unmarked and running toward the goal or a square pass to Sauro.

Trapp, one of the league’s most accurate long passers, hits a ball into the path of Francis.

Francis’ defender has to turn to see the ball, giving the fullback time to let the ball meet him downfield. Zardes cuts toward the goal in hopes of a cross from his left back.

Teal Bunbury recovers his defensive positioning and sends Francis back toward the half line. Meram heads toward Francis bringing an additional defender but creating space in the middle of the field.

Francis continues to head toward the midfield while Meram provides Francis a down-the-line passing option. Trapp fills into the space vacated by Meram’s run and provides a safe passing option Francis.

With Meram on the wing and Higuain on the right, Santos heads to the middle of the field. Trapp receives Francis’s pass and has four options: cycle the ball over to Artur, carry the ball toward midfield, drop a pass to Sauro or a quick pass back to Francis.

Trapp carries the ball a few yards toward midfield and is heavily pressured. The Crew captain quickly touches the ball back to Francis. Santos is unmarked and puts himself in position to give Francis a passing option.

At this point, all three attacking midfielders are in different positions on the field than where they started this sequence.

Francis is pressured by two New England defenders so he quickly hits a diagonal pass to Santos.

Santos is able to receive the ball and turn toward the goal.

Santos carries the ball forward while Zardes makes his run behind Michael Macienne. Wilfried Zahibo never provides heavy defensive pressure on the Columbus winger.

Santos continues forward with little pressure and can either play an early cross to Zardes, continue to carry the ball forward or knock a diagonal pass to Meram on the left wing.

From the goal line camera we can see the instant where Santos looks up and sees Zardes running behind Macienne.

Santos decides to hit a cross to Zardes before the striker even crosses the line into the New England penalty box.

Macienne is a few feet ahead of Zardes, so he should be able to either cut off a cross that falls short or contend for a header if the ball makes it that far toward the goal.

Macienne’s briefly slows and attempts to deflect the ball out of danger. His attempt is too early and Santos’ ball is too well hit, seeing the cross sail just over the center back’s head and right to Zardes.

Zardes barely has to jump for the ball, ducking his head as Santos’ inch-perfect cross reaches him.

The Black & Gold striker heads the ball toward the ground. This tactic gives Zardes a much better chance of putting the shot on frame and creates an added degree of difficulty for the goalkeeper who now has to contend with a ball coming off an unpredictable bounce. Zardes’ header is expertly placed, sending the ball . . .

. . . into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. This goal provides a great look at the evolution of the Crew system under Porter. Trapp splits the defenders as he has in the past while the advanced midfielders are free to switch positions. Subtle changes to the system can add an heir of unpredictability to a team that was becoming all too predictable.
  2. Columbus’ system has always been built on short passes but it also relies on players using their strengths. Trapp is an expert at making long passes as seen in his pass to Francis. Likewise, Santos has shown a knack for delivering inch-perfect crosses.
  3. Zardes’ finishing on Saturday was excellent. With two goals in this game, Zardes has already tied his road goal total from 2018 (2).