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The Crew’s offensive chemistry is paying dividends

Improving offensive production for Columbus now needs to deliver an assembly line of three points per game. 

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC’s offense has delivered goals as of late, scoring 10 goals during the past five games.

In four of those five matches, the Crew has scored at least two goals, something the team did just five times the firsts four and a half months of the season. Sparking the scoring is forward Gyasi Zardes and midfielder Pedro Santos, who tallied three goals each in this recent five-game unbeaten stretch.

Speaking of Zardes, the U.S. Men’s National Team forward has shown a burgeoning offensive chemistry with midfielder Luis Argudo. Recall the New York Red Bulls game on July 27 when Zardes headed the ball back towards goal to a charging Argudo who blasted the ball in stride into the back of the net, past veteran MLS goalkeeper Luis Robles. Earlier this month, Zardes set Argudo up for a quality shot outside the 18-yard box midway through the first half against the San Jose Earthquakes that nearly tucked into the near post.

“His confidence is growing with the more games he’s starting to play,” Zardes said of Argudo. “You can see he’s becoming a more confident player and that’s good for the team.”

Increased combination plays between Zardes and Argudo (and other midfielders) needs to be part of the Black & Gold’s offensive tactics in the final stretch of this regular season. More combination plays will spark more creativity in the final third -- in addition to just crossing the ball into the penalty box -- and will add dynamism that will prevent opponents from forecasting Columbus’ offense. This progression will involve Crew regulars synchronizing with the bevy of new players who have joined the Black & Gold this season.

“We’re still gaining chemistry with the new guys,” Zardes said. “We just signed a couple of key players who have been implemented into our roster… So we have to utilize (their playing preferences) during the next couple of games to finish this year strong and hopefully clinch a playoff spot.”

As offensive chemistry improved in recent weeks, possession became a casualty of sorts for the Crew. In the past few games, statistics, as well as the eye test, revealed a Columbus team that experienced dipping possession percentages with mixed results in the form of too many ties and, consequently, points lost.

“We’re starting to be more direct (in games),” Zardes said. “That can be a cause of having a lower possession percentage.”

This is true.

Playing more direct does have its benefits at the cost of a lower possession percentage. However, establishing possession with a purpose for attacking ultimately leads to a wide range of offensive opportunities that simultaneously forces the opponent to chase, become disjointed and make uncomfortable adjustments during a game. And as Columbus continues a late push for the playoffs, tough opponents await that will punish the Crew in a myriad of ways by sustaining possession and controlling tempo during a stretch of games when three points in every game remain at a premium.

The final eight regular season games for the Crew include three home games and five games on the road. But first, the Crew hosts Toronto FC this weekend.

“We know Toronto is a great team, but we also know this is a perfect opportunity to capitalize and get points against a team that’s above us in the table,” Zardes said.

Extending the five-game unbeaten streak -- two wins and three ties -- would be nice but earning three points is of paramount importance.

The game against Toronto will feature many intriguing matchups, but none more fascinating to watch than the old guard of the U.S. National Team, consisting of defensive midfielder Michael Bradley and forward Jozy Altidore, versus the new and promising USMNT combo of defensive midfielder Wil Trapp and Zardes.

And if the Crew went to get a result, the offensive chemistry that formed in recent weeks with Zardes and his midfielders must continue, if not take the next step.