Columbus Crew SC earned three valuable points on the road by blanking the New England Revolution 2-0 at Gillette Stadium this past Saturday. A Zack Steffen penalty save plus a Gyasi Zardes brace were the highlights. But then there was the lack of dominating possession by Columbus, which is an issue that needs to be resolved.
Even though the Crew has only played two games thus far in the 2019 regular season, there should be more cohesion with this familiar Crew squad that has a new coach in Caleb Porter but one who leads with a similar tactical philosophy as his predecessor, Gregg Berhalter. Possession keeps the ball away from the opponent and, when passing efficiently, will move opponents in ways that create open lanes for lots of goal scoring opportunities.
Against the reserve-heavy New York Red Bulls and the New England Revolution, the Crew averaged:
· 62 percent possession, 80.5 percent pass accuracy, 9.5 shots, four shots on goal and 1.5 goals per game
The reserve-heavy Red Bulls and the Revolution averaged the following against the Crew:
· 38 percent possession, 67.5 percent pass accuracy, 12.5 shots, 3.5 shots on goal and 0.5 goals per game
Now let’s compare these same statistics with Pep Guardiola’s Man City squad, which is a team that prioritizes (and relies on) possession with purpose to dominate opponents that leads to an incredibly high number of high-quality offensive chances and goals. This is also a team that both Berhalter and Porter have based tactics on
Manchester City has averaged the following statistics during its past six games in all competitions that all resulted in wins:
· 72 percent possession, 89 percent pass accuracy, 18.5 shots, 7.2 shots on goal and 2.5 goals per game
Manchester City’s past five opponents (played Schalke 04 twice in the Champions League) collectively averaged the following against them:
· 28 percent possession, 71 percent pass accuracy, 3.33 shots, 0.8 shots on goal and 0.5 goals per game
The reason for making these statistical comparisons from recent weeks between the Crew in MLS with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City squad in the middle of the English Premier League season is to illustrate the point that passing in a deliberate and dynamic yet patient manner to build-up play generates a lot of high-quality goal scoring opportunities and goals while simultaneously restricting the offensive oxygen of opponents. It’s not a 100 percent guarantee for victory in all games, but the data very much favors teams that pass and maintain possession at high levels because of how it impacts teams offensively and defensively in equal measure.
Recall that during the 2018 MLS season, the Crew never had a winning streak longer than three games. Statistically reaching the passing efficiency and possession levels of City listed above will, among a few things, greatly increase the odds of longer, sustained winning streaks for the Crew in 2019. Sixty-two percent average possession for the Columbus after two games is good, but that number dropped significantly from Week 1 to Week 2 when Columbus faced a better opponent (68 percent to 56 percent) and one that could sit back with a lead (New York) as opposed to one chasing the game (New England).
Having said that, Porter has great players all over the pitch who can (and need to) take more control of the game in this respect as this MLS season unfolds. The Crew would benefit tremendously by prioritizing longer stretches of possession with a purpose.
For the Crew, this would be a win-win-win-win-win…