Following Saturday’s 3-2 win against the New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew SC has earned points in three straight matches, the team’s best run of form in months. The road victory may have been their best win of the season. Let’s take a look at a few aspects of the game that stuck out the most.
The Argudo bandwagon is getting crowded
Luis Argudo has seen his minutes increase significantly over the last two months. In the first 15 matches of the season, the young attacker accumulated a grand total of 52 minutes of playing time. Following a rash of injuries, national team call-ups and inconsistent play, head coach Caleb Porter challenged his young players to take advantage of the minutes available. Undoubtedly, Argudo has taken the opportunity and flourished.
Since June 1, the Queens, New York native played in each of the nine games, starting in six. His breakout game was against the Seattle Sounders on July 6, though he didn’t score or tally an assist, his work rate and tenacity shone brightly. As far as I was concerned, he was the Crew’s “Man of the Match” in that game. In the last three matches, he has opened up both his MLS assist and goal accounts with two assists and one goal.
Argudo’s versatility has been on display, as Porter moved him from the wing to the attacking midfield role. He was involved in two of Black & Gold’s three goals versus the Red Bulls, scoring the Crew’s opening goal of the match and inadvertently assisting on the Santos game-winning goal.
While he has also had lapses in play and made the occasional erratic error, Argudo’s youthful exuberance is pushing him to new levels. Hopefully he will continue his ascension and find himself a niche in the club’s long-term future.
The Crew can make second-half adjustments
It isn’t a coincidence that the Crew has earned positive results in each of the last three matches while scoring within two minutes of the second-half kickoff. All of these goals have been during the run of play and via a counter attack.
In Chicago, a mere two minutes after kickoff, Eduardo Sosa gained possession at midfield, dished a pass to Argudo, who slotted a ball to an on-running Gyasi Zardes who finished it inside the near post. Against the Montreal Impact, we saw more of the same, as David Accam finished a far-post strike in the 46th minute after he received a quality ball from Pedro Santos. Last night in New Jersey, Columbus scored again in the 46th minute. This time it was Santos who ripped a left-footed laser at the near post after another counter attack. Hector Jimenez sent a perfectly paced and curled ball down the left channel to Agudo, who dribbled into the penalty box, lost control of the ball, which inadvertently set up a perfect shot for Santos to run onto and bury.
For Columbus to continue on this run, making tactical and mental adjustments at the halfway mark is critical. Coaches spend hours scouting opposition, and in turn, they design and implement specific gameplans for their squads from game to game. However, until you actually face the opposition and experience what they are attempting to do against you first-hand, the scouting work is merely theoretical. Not making the proper tactical adjustments at halftime will make or break any team. The fact that the Black & Gold have been scoring consistently at that stage, speaks to the adjustments being made at the intermission.
When you shoot, you score
Since its inaugural season of 2010, Red Bull Arena has generally not been a kind place for opposing teams. Earning positive results are rare, as is playing well. Sure, this Red Bulls team may not be quite as prolific as squads of previous seasons, but the talent is there and the system is on display. For the Crew to have unleashed, a season-high 20 shots on Saturday, says a lot about where Columbus is heading.
Additionally, the Crew could have easily had another goal or two. The Red Bulls defense had five blocked shots, Robles made multiple fantastic saves and Columbus did allow numerous legitimate scoring threats to fizzle out. Three of the six shots that were on target found the back of the net for the Black & Gold, a positive step in the right direction for the Crew’s attack.
It’s the little things that count
A couple of subtle and likely overlooked plays by Crew veterans led to two goals and should be discussed more thoroughly.
On the first Crew goal, Gyasi Zardes smartly headed a long-ball pass backward, to a rushing-to-goal Argudo. It looked like a kickoff straight from the training ground, as center back Alex Crognale received the ball and immediately sent a deep direct pass to a running Zardes, who let it bounce and calmly headed it onto the path of Argudo. The header was purposeful and it was truly a “heady” play by the U.S. National Team forward.
Columbus scored one heck of a buildup goal to start the second half. Outside back Hector Jimenez perfectly slotted a pass to an in-stride Argudo, which led to a blast of a goal by Santos. Possession was gained in the Crew’s defensive-third of the field and carried into the middle-third, Jimenez had to outrun a Red Bull defender and calmly curl the ball out of the reach of another New York defender, while squeezing inside the sideline. He accomplished this with his left foot, by the way. The weight and accuracy of the pass were both superb. Anything slower or off point would not have allowed Argudo the free run up the left channel.
Both plays were phenomenal and deserved more credit for the goals that came about. Zardes and Jimenez were each given assists, and rightfully so.