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Anatomy of a Goal: Williams heads home a controversial winner

This week we look at Josh Williams’s 42nd minute goal that gave Columbus a win over New England.

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 six of the 2019 MLS Season, we take a look at Josh Williams’ 42nd minute header, off a Federico Higuain free kick, that put the Crew up 1-0 as part of their win over the New England Revolution on Saturday.

Here’s a look at yet another finish from a Columbus center back.

Free kick goals are rarely the most exciting goal plays to break down and Williams’ winner from Saturday is no exception. However, as with Sauro’s goals from earlier in the season, it give us an excellent chance to see what the Black & Gold have been working on behind closed doors on the training grounds. This goal has the added controversy of a potential missed offside call, so let’s look at Williams’ header from those two lenses.

The above image shows the pre-kick movement from the Crew. If the image looks confusing, it’s because it is. As in football with offensive movement before a snap, pre-kick movement is intended to do a few things. Here, Columbus use the pre-kick movement to confuse the New England defenders and to determine whether the Revolution are man-marking or using zonal marking.

Before Higuain serves in this free kick, three players will move. Robinho and Artur will both head out behind Gyasi Zardes and Jonathan Mensah, and Williams will cut above Zardes and Jonathan into the formerly occupied by the two midfielders. These two groups more or less swap spots.

If defenders go with the two movement groups, it will be clear that New England is using man-marking. If the defenders maintain their positions, then the Revolution are marking zonally. What you will see from the following images is that the New England defenders maintain their line and are using zonal marking for this free kick.

Robinho and Artur make the first moves in the pre-kick set-up. If Juan Agudelo follows Robinho and Michael Mancienne follows Artur, the Black & Gold will know this is a man-marking situation.

Macienne and Agudelo maintain their positions, letting the Crew attackers head to the back of the attacking line unmarked. It appears that Columbus has found the Revolution in a zonal marking scheme on this kick.

Williams will now begin his cut down the line of attackers and defenders and then cut into the space in front of Andrew Farrell. The center back will effectively use the entire line of players as a screen, should Brandon Bye follow him. Because New England is marking zonally, Williams will make his run totally unimpeded.

Bye stays home while Williams cuts across the line.

Farrell and Agudelo watch as Williams cuts goal-ward into the space in front of Farrell and behind Teal Bunbury (who is just to the left of the image). By virtue of his movement and the Revolution’s defensive setup, Williams will have a free look at Higuain’s kick.

Brad Friedel, New England’s manager and former Black & Gold goalkeeper, was not particularly happy with this goal having been allowed. After complaining about an alleged and uncalled foul against Team Bunbury, Friedel dismissed Williams’ goal as having been “a shoulder” offside. Let’s see if Friedel was correct.

The white line in the image above shows where the offside line is as Higuain begins his run up to the bal.

Higuain has not yet struck the ball as Williams cuts in behind Bunbury and toward the goal. The angle of the image makes it difficult to determine offside for certain but it appears that both Williams and Bunbury are in an onside position with the line being maintained by the furthest back defender.

The above image is taken the moment before Higuain strikes the ball. The offside line is still maintained by the furthest back defender.

Per the International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) Laws of the Game, offside is determined by the positioning of a player’s head, body or legs. It is illegal to play a ball with the arms or hands so they are not considered in the offside determination. So, if a player is totally onside except for his hand, that player is onside.

Above it is unclear to tell whether Williams’s shoulder, the part of his body closest to the goal, is to the goal side of the furthest back defender.

Here is the moment the ball is played, by which the offside determination is to be made. Williams’ head and shoulder appear to be to the goal side of Bunbury. If Bunbury is the offside line, Williams is a tiny bit offside. However, if the offside line is still maintained by the furthest back defender, it is nearly impossible to determine whether Williams is onside or offside.

So why wasn’t this play reviewed using the Video Assistant Referee? For a play to be subject to video review, the missed call must have been a clear and obvious error by the official on the field. From the available evidence, it is difficult to say whether Williams was offside or onside. It’s a judgment call, and is not a clear error. While Friedel has every right to be frustrated, it is a stretch to argue that the offside non-call was a clear error that should have been subject to VAR.

The Crew have now completed their pre-kick runs to identify New England’s zonal marking, or the entire defensive line deciding not to move before the kick, and Williams status (onside or offside) has been determined by the referees. There is still a goal waiting to be scored.

The Columbus attacking scheme in this free kick utilizes four distinct groups: 1. Williams running to a front post area to flick the ball toward the back post; 2. Zardes and Jonathan running in the middle of the box with aim of heading the ball directly on goal; 3. Artur looking to finish anything that is flicked to the back post; and, 4. Robinho running a far back post run to clean up any loose balls.

Higuain serves the ball in toward the area near Williams and Zardes. If the ball clears Bunbury, stationed a few yards in front of Williams, there will be a chance for a flicked header or a direct header from an open Zardes.

Bunbury jumps too early and too close to Higuain. The Revolution winger has no chance to get even a hair on the ball.

Williams has a free look at the ball and flicks a glancing header toward the back post.

Zardes is open right behind Williams, but the ball is out of his reach and headed toward the goal.

Cody Cropper can only watch as the ball heads to his left and . . .

. . . into the back of the net!


  1. Like a wide-receiver going into motion before the snap to out a defenses coverage, Columbus’ two pre-kick movements show New England’s zonal defensive setup.
  2. From the side view at the time of Higuain’s kick, it appears that Williams might have been a shoulder or head offside. However, it takes a clear error to utilize VAR. While the call might have been close, it does not seem to have been a clear error.
  3. Williams header might have been a lucky flick, but it absolutely got the job done.