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Anatomy of a Goal: Zardes completes the dissection of Atlanta

This week we look at Gyasi Zardes’ team goal against Atlanta.

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 five of the 2019 MLS Season, we take a look at Gyasi Zardes’s 39th minute goal that put the Crew up 2-0 as part of their win over Atlanta United on a rainy Saturday night.

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

The Black & Gold started this match on a high note, in spite of the wet and cold conditions, when Pedro Santos smashed home an Artur cross in the opening minutes of the match. A few Zack Steffen wonder-saves and a weather delay later, Columbus find themselves locked in a fairly even match played on an increasingly wet pitch.

Zardes’ goal, The Crew’s second of the match, shows exactly how Caleb Porter wants this team to play when at its peak. The Black & Gold use swarming defense in Atlanta’s defensive end to win a turnover, use one-touch passing to escape danger and create space, drop the ball back to the defense and play a direct ball up the field to throw Atlanta off balance and grab the Crew’s first ever win against Atlanta.

Let’s start all the way back at the beginning.

Zardes’ goal begins with a throw-in for the Five Stripes. Franco Escobar makes a lazy toss to Ezequiel Barco who is immediately swarmed by Columbus.

Federico Higuain easily wins the ball from Barco and plays a quick pass up the field to Zardes.

Rather than turn toward the Atlanta goal, Zardes plays a first-touch pass right back to Artur.

Artur cycles the ball back to Higuain.

Higuain takes a few touches back toward the midfield line and plays a simple pass back to Artur.

Under pressure from Barco, Artur hits a quick diagonal pass to Wil Trapp.

Trapp is pressured by fellow Akron alum Darlington Nagbe. The Black & Gold captain carries the ball toward the sideline while Waylon Francis drops back to provide a safe passing option.

Trapp plays a leading pass back to Francis while Nagbe provides pressure. The pass will send Francis across the midfield line and toward his own goal.

Francis heads backward as Julian Gressel pressures him. Josh Williams keeps pace with Francis, providing a passing option.

Francis carries the ball into a wet patch before hitting a quick square pass to Williams. Josef Martinez seems to have expected Francis to play a dangerous pass to Steffen, leaving Williams free to receive the ball and turn up the field.

Martinez recovers and pushes Williams toward the sideline.

However, Robinho is able to pop free and provide a passing option near midfield. Note Porter at the bottom of the screen, instructing Williams exactly to whom to play the pass and set off the attack.

Robinho makes a first touch pass to Artur who has popped into the space behind Barco.

Artur has time and space to carry the ball forward before being pressured. At midfield, Artur can play either a diagonal pass back to Robinho or a needle-threading pass to Higuain.

Artur finds Robinho on the wing with space to make his next move.

Escobar quickly recovers onto Robinho. The Crew winger must now decide which of four options to take. He can attempt to beat Escobar up the sideline, play a difficult pass over the defense to Zardes, knock a square pass to Higuain or play a drop ball to Artur.

Robinho makes the safe pass right back to Artur. Notice the positioning of Higuain. The Argentine has stepped into the space between Atlanta’s furthest back defensive block and their midfield block, giving him ample space to receive a pass and find an open teammate.

Artur sees Higuain wide open and plays a quick pass to his teammate.

Escobar’s recovery movement toward Higuain frees up Robinho. Both Robinho and Higuain recognize the opportunity and Columbus’ No. 10 plays a quick, incisive through pass to his speedy teammate on the wing, sending Robinho toward the Atlanta goal.

Higuain’s pass splits the Five Stripes’ defenders and lets Robinho build a full head of steam as he runs toward the goal.

Robinho picks up the ball out wide and shifts his angle toward the goal. Zardes continues his run between the two Atlanta center backs.

Zardes’s next move is a brilliant bit of work that shows why the Black & Gold traded for him last season. In the video above you can see Zardes make his run at full speed as if he is heading toward the goal line for a cross. Instead of continue his run, Zardes abruptly stops just past the penalty spot. United’s defenders do not have time to react, and are fighting their own momentum toward the goal. This will allow Zardes to hit a wide open shot in the middle of the goal box.

Zardes plants both feet just a few feet inside the penalty spot.

Zardes’s excellent movement is only part of the equation. If Robinho were unaware of the run, he would have played a ball that was easily won by Atlanta. Instead, Robinho picks his head up and sees exactly what Zardes has done. The team has certainly worked on this exact play on the training ground.

Robinho picks out Zardes and must hit an accurate, hard pass to the striker.

The winger does just that, hitting a hard, lofted pass right to Zardes.

Zardes sees the ball all the way into his left foot and prepares to take a first-touch shot on goal.

He connects with the ball with his left foot, sending it right toward the Atlanta goal.

Guzan is unable to get in front of the shot, watching the ball roll . . .

. . . into the back of the net!


  1. This is an absolute team goal. Defensive pressure wins the ball, seven different Crew players get a touch on the ball and simple passes lead to an easy dissection of Atlanta United.
  2. The multiple one-touch passes out of danger served to both keep the ball and to unbalance Atlanta’s defensive pressure.
  3. Robinho’s pace and awareness were on full display here. If he can keep it up, the Brazilian might lock down the left wing position.
  4. Zardes’ run and finish are both impressive. He uses Atlanta’s expectations against them by varying a run, and is unafraid to hit a first-touch shot with his left foot.