After a frustrating and at times baffling Trillium Cup loss last Sunday to Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC hit the road on Saturday in an effort to rebound against Western Conference foes FC Dallas. Dallas comes into this match after a scoreless draw at home with Orlando City SC and will be looking to take maximum points for the first time in two matches.
This game marks the beginning of the third phase of the adjusted MLS regular season schedule in 2020 and is the first of nine games for the Black & Gold between now and Nov. 8. Coming off only its second loss of 2020 regular season play, the Crew will be looking to regain the team’s winning form right away.
Let’s take a look at FC Dallas.
FC Dallas at a glance:
League Form: D-L-W-W-W
Record: 5-5-3 (20 Points)
Leading Scorer: Franco Jara (5 goals)
Assist Leader: Bryan Acosta, Michel Barrios (2 assists)
Player to watch: Franco Jara
Jara has lit up the MLS since joining FC Dallas in June from Mexican giants Pachuca. In only 11 games since he joined Dallas, Jara has contributed five goals to the Dallas attack. If you factor in that Franco did not score in his first three MLS matches, you can see that the forward appears to have figured out how to score in MLS with all of his goals coming in the last eight matches.
The Argentinean playmaker is no stranger to the highest levels of the game. Jara has had stints with Portuguese superclub Benfica as well as Granada in the Spanish La Liga, Greek Super Power Olympiacos and CONCACAF bullies Pachuca. With all that experience comes the knowledge of how to put the ball in the net and Jara can do so in a variety of ways. Jara is known for his craftiness on the ball and his ability to dribble at and beat defenders in 1 v. 1 matchups, Jara is perhaps even more effective with his movement off the ball. Much like Gyasi Zardes, Jara is adept at losing markers in the box and creating goal scoring opportunities for himself. The Black & Gold will need to keep a watchful eye on Jara throughout this matchup on Saturday to strengthen their chances for three points.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold are looking to recover from their defeat to Toronto this past Sunday and have a good chance to do so against FC Dallas. This game will certainly be one of high tactical quality and tactical intrigue as both sides look to play in similar ways. Let’s take a look at what the Crew can focus on to take three points back to Ohio’s capital.
It has been well documented thus far in 2020 that the Crew is a team that looks to dominate possession of the ball in most matches and this match will be no exception. While being in control of the ball is certainly a welcome idea by many in the soccer community, it is not without its risks. As we have mentioned before, the Crew is often susceptible to quick counter attacks from their opposition due to Columbus’ expansive style of possession that involves pushing many players up into attacking areas while on the ball. While the Black & Gold have certainly established themselves as a side who is capable of doing this at a high level consistently, FC Dallas has also established itself as very capable of beating teams who play like the Crew. In fact, all three of FC Dallas’ recent wins have come from games where the team had less than 50 percent possession. Clearly, FC Dallas has consistently found ways to counter attack and punish opponents who have been dominating in possession and will look to do so against the Black & Gold as well.
There are a few ways for the Crew to mitigate this threat. Firstly, and most obviously, Columbus need to be very sharp in possession of the ball. If the Crew is able to dominate possession through quick passes to shift the FCD defense out of position, the team will likely have a multitude of scoring opportunities as has become commonplace in 2020 for the Black & Gold. In addition to the obvious goal scoring benefits, if Columbus is able to move the ball quickly and accurately, it will force FC Dallas to expend a lot of energy defending, which would be effective in minimizing the home team’s ability to launch an attack right away when they do win the ball, giving the Crew time to recover into its defensive shape.
In addition to recovering defensively, another way for the Black & Gold to minimize the FC Dallas counter attack is to effectively execute something that head coach Caleb Porter and his staff have emphasized time and again for the Crew thus far in 2020. Counter pressing, as it is commonly called, refers to trying to win the ball back as quickly as possible upon losing possession. To do this, the players that are closest to the ball when it is lost are asked to apply pressure to the opposition as quickly as possible to try and win the ball back, as well as prevent counter attacks. Luckily, the Black & Gold are one of the best counter-pressing teams in the league thus far in 2020 and if they are able to successfully do so again on Saturday night, it could bode well for the result of the match.
In addition to this, the Crew needs to do a terrific job of managing the game. In other words, the Crew will likely not want this to be an end to end attacking thriller of a match (think Big 12 Football) instead, the Crew will likely be best served if the game is a little bit slower and controlled (think Big 10 Football.) An end to end attacking match favors FC Dallas as that is what they are built to do and seem to be trying to force opponents like Columbus into doing. In fact, FC Dallas boast a 4-1-1 record in games that have more than three goals scored in 2020. Additionally, FC Dallas owns a 1-2-4 record in games with under three goals in 2020. Furthermore, Columbus is not built for this style of play and would much prefer the game to have a little bit slower tempo and be more controlled with Columbus on the ball.
One thing to keep an eye on for Crew fans heading into this matchup Saturday night is where Columbus starts to pressure the ball defensively. In most matches, the Black & Gold hold a relatively high line of pressure, typically somewhere between the opponents’ 18-yard box and the top of the center circle in their opponents half. However, when the Black & Gold faced Nashville SC a few weeks ago, they dropped their defensive line much lower in order to allow Nashville to have possession of the ball higher up the field and thus vacate space close to their goal that the Crew then looked to exploit upon winning the ball. Given the success against Nashville with this tactic and the similarities between Nashville and Dallas, it is possible that Porter elects a similar strategy on Saturday night.
As the Crew looks to stay atop the Supporters Shield Standings, taking three points from matches like these are a must. If Columbus is able to keep control of the possession and do a good job of managing the game and controlling the tempo, the team will like its odds of taking three points with them back home.