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The Crew experimented offensively against the Timbers in an attempt to find goals

Porter & Company are seeking the optimal attacking combination

MLS: Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC has tallied a paltry eight goals in as many games in 2019. Discussing the club’s lack of goals has reached the “beating a dead horse” levels at this point. Naturally, any coach is apt to endlessly ponder how to alleviate such an issue. To tackle the matter head-on, Crew head coach, Caleb Porter had a plan. Porter made it a focal point in training last week to have crosses originate from the wingers. This stemmed from the Timbers center backs struggled at handling crosses in their first six games of the year. The thought process became clear: the more balls in the penalty box, the higher the likelihood of balls finding the back of the net.

Conventional wisdom would proclaim that to effectively execute crosses from the flanks, a left-footed player should line up on the left flank and a right-footed player on the right flank. Such a setup is not customary within the 4-2-3-1 system used by Columbus. Instead, the wingers are typically inverted, positioned on the opposite flank of their dominant foot (i.e., a right-footed player, like Robinho, generally plays on the left side, and vice versa for Pedro Santos, who is a left-footed player).

Rather than delivering crosses from the wide areas, the inverted wingers assume a prominent attacking role and support the striker. Using their dominant foot to cut in towards the center of the pitch and have a more opportune angle at goal. The emphasis on crosses from the wide channels in training last week led to the winger duo of Santos and Robinho swapping spots and playing on their natural sides. While such a move may seem trivial schematically, it is quite the different role.

It is questionable if the current Columbus Crew squad is constructed to consistently finish crosses from the flanks, at least when it pertains to aerial battles. Aerial crosses from the wide channels can manufacture goals via deflections, spreading the defense out, crosses on the ground, not just headers or volleys. The Black & Gold roster, though is small in stature, lacking a true aerial presence offensively. Adding another layer of offensive potency prevents a team from becoming predictable, thus crosses are critical to being well-rounded. However, the bread and butter of this roster is predicated on possessing and building through the various thirds of the field, not aerial crosses.

Porter was adamant that the first 20 minutes of the Timbers game was positive.

“It was good to start the match. We had several (crosses). Pedro had a couple early. Robinho got in for a great chance.” he said. “If you look back and watch the first 20 minutes, I think things were playing out the way we wanted them to.”

Statistically, Columbus was effective in sending passes from the wide areas, accumulating 28 crosses in 90-plus minutes against Portland. Several of these crosses led to shots narrowly missing the frame or were saved by Portland goalkeeper, Jeff Attinella. In contrast to previous game film, the Timbers backline also minimized the effectiveness of the bulk of the crosses, with stout defending and timely clearances. This, at least in part, derailed the Black & Gold’s plan of attack.

The lone Crew goal came to fruition thanks to a costly turnover by Attinella, and a beautifully placed chip by Santos. The winger found the back of the net after slotting back in his traditional inverted winger position. He settled the ball after the poor clearance and, with his cultured left foot. precisely placed the shot over the desperate ‘keeper.

In summarizing the Saturday evening tilt with his former club, when asked what he saw, Porter concluded his postgame press conference by admitting, “We crossed a lot of balls and not a lot of them found anyone. That’s what I saw today.”

While Porter and his staff are searching for the answer to their goalscoring riddle, fans in Crewville can only hope the answer is found sooner rather than later. Improved crossing may be the ultimate answer, but it didn’t lead to an increased finish rate on Saturday night.