The Columbus Crew got back to winning ways this past Sunday against New York City FC at MAPFRE Stadium. To make the victory even sweeter, the Black & Gold clinched a playoff berth courtesy of Toronto FC defeating Atlanta United.
That being said there is still much to be done for the Crew in the regular season as the focus shifts to obtaining a high playoff seed and as many home games in the postseason as possible. Obviously, this is an important goal for every MLS club, but perhaps even more important for Columbus who is yet to win a game away from home.
The Black & Gold’s match this Saturday against the Houston Dynamo on the road is one of those vital matches where three points could not only go a long way in climbing up the table, but also gaining some valuable confidence in away performances for the Crew. Let’s take a look at what to expect on Saturday night.
Houston Dynamo at a Glance:
Record: 4-8-7, 20 points
League Form: D-L-L-W-L
Leading Scorer: Darwin Quintero (7)
Assist Leader: Darwin Quintero (6)
Player to Watch: Darwin Quintero
It may seem obvious, but the Crew probably need to pay large amounts of attention to the opposition’s leading goal scorer. Add in to that equation the fact that he also leads his team in assists and you quickly figure out Quintero is one of the most effective players on the field.
The 33-year-old Columbian has no doubt left a mark on MLS quickly in his time in the league amassing 34 goals in 82 matches played. Previously with Minnesota United, the Dynamo acquired him in January. “The Scientist” as he is affectionately known, has great 1 v. 1 ability and his prowess is in dribbling at defenses with speed and agility before finishing with power and precision. The Dynamo has relied on Quintero for much of the 2020 campaign under new head coach Tab Ramos. Given his ability in transition moments, the Crew will have to keep a close eye on Quintero at all times in this match in order to limit his effectiveness.
How Houston Dynamo play:
Ramos has played around with several different styles of play in his first year at the helm of the Dynamo. More recently, he has settled into a 4-3-3 formation with his side. Featuring a lot of pace in the attack, Houston looks to use this to the team’s advantage in its style of play.
When the Dynamo has the ball, the team has little interest in keeping possession of the ball in the defensive or middle thirds of the field. Houston is typically looking to move the ball forward as quickly as possible to the frontline. This allows the Dynamo frontline space to exploit with the team’s pace up top. In addition, it allows the rest of Houston’s midfield and backline to quickly move up the field in order to try and pin opponents in its half.
When their opposition is in possession, the Dynamo has rotated between several different tactics this year depending on the qualities of the opposition. The two that the Crew is most likely to see are either a high press up the field similar to when playing opponents like New York Red Bulls, or a deeper defensive line looking to draw the Black & Gold up the field and then counter attack the space behind the backline, similar to Columbus opponents like Nashville SC and FC Cincinnati.
Whichever defensive tactic the Dynamo employs in this match, it will almost certainly look to maximize the pace the team has up top and create opportunities for those front three players, including Quintero, in transition. Similarly, Houston’s attack has been built around swift attacking movements that enable their pacy and dangerous attackers to do what they do best. Despite not being the deepest or most complete team in the MLS, the Dynamo has used these tactics to position the team firmly in the Western Conference playoff race.
How the Crew can win:
The importance of this game, as stated above, is not lost on the Black & Gold. Not only does it provide a chance to gain three points and continue to climb or stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, but it also allows Columbus the opportunity to prove to itself and the rest of the league that the team can win away from home. That being said, there are a few things the Crew needs to do well in order to take three points home with them.
Firstly, the Crew has to be very clean when in possession of the ball. The second half of the MLS season has seen two very different Columbus sides step out on the field. At times, the Black & Gold hav been very sharp and clean in possession moving the ball quickly and accurately amongst themselves before breaking to attack the goal. Contrastly, Crew fans have also seen their side move the ball slowly and lethargically with no real intent or purpose in the passing, which leads to a lack of attacking opportunities.
Against Houston, the Crew will have to be the former version of itself to have success. Whether the Dynamo opts to press high up the field or sit deeper into a low block, Columbus will have to move the ball quickly and accurately in order to create chances. It is likely that the Crew will have space in the central midfield to play in and attack. However, turnovers and sloppy play in this area can lead to dangerous chances for Houston given the speed and prowess up top. If the Crew is to take away thre points from this match, the team must dominate possession and use that possession to create attacking opportunities.
In addition, the Crew has to be much better on defensive set pieces in order to be successful in this match and in the rest of the 2020 campaign. Two of the last three goals Columbus has given up have been off of set pieces and it has no doubt been one of the weaknesses for the Crew for the entirety of this year.
While Houston has not necessarily been incredibly dangerous on the team’s attacking set pieces, it will no doubt have been a focus for the group in their preparation in this match. If the Dynamo is able to score and create chances off of attacking set pieces, it will favor the team and its game plan as they will likely hold a deeper defensive line knowing that they will be able to create chances through counter attacks and set pieces.
As Crew fans well know, there have been times when the Black & Gold have struggled against deep defensive lines so far this year, so enabling an opponent to exploit two of the potential weaknesses is not something the Crew should be looking to do. However, if Columbus effectively defends set pieces, it could cause Houston to be more adventurous in both attack and defense which could lead to space to attack for the Crew. Regardless, an improvement on defensive set pieces is an absolute must for the Black & Gold in this match.
If the Crew is able to effectively execute while in possession and defending set pieces, the team will greatly increase the likelihood of taking all three points. However, a lapse in these areas will make winning in Houston harder than winning on the road already has been for the Black & Gold this year.