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Anatomy of a Goal: Zardes scores the first-round winner

This week we look at Gyasi Zardes’ playoff game-winning goal against RBNY.

Welcome back to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from the Columbus Crew‘s previous match.

For the first match of the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, we take a look at Gyasi Zardes’ 68th minute goal that gave the Crew a 3-1 lead and proved to be the game-winning goal against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

Here is a look at the goal from Columbus’s striker.

The Black & Gold took the field against New York fresh off a two-week break before the start of the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs. With fresh legs and a first-choice lineup, the Crew quickly took control of the match. The Red Bulls pounced on an errant Harrison Afful clearance in the 23rd minute to take an early lead against the run of play, but Columbus quickly evened things up with a 26th minute penalty kick goal by Pedro Santos.

Columbus brought that same dominant energy to the early portions of the second half. Seconds after the half’s kickoff, Darlington Nagbe pounced on a Ryan Meara save to grab a 2-1 lead for the home team.

Zardes’ eventual game winner begins with a New York clearance. The cleared ball rolls toward Artur with his attacking teammates all in position to receive a quick pass on the counter-press. Derrick Etienne and Meara got tangled up following Etienne’s pressure and Meara’s clearance.

Artur steps to the ball, under pressure and can play an easy pass to Santos, a through pass to Zardes or a lofted pass forward to Lucas Zelarayan.

Meanwhile, Etienne and Meara are still tangled up.

Artur plays the safe pass around the referee to Santos.

Santos prepares to receive the ball under direct pressure from Kyle Duncan. The Crew winger has three options. He can redirect the ball around Duncan and cut toward the goal, a first-touch through pass to Zardes or a play first-touch pass forward to Zelarayan.

Santos spies Zelarayan and plays a quick, first-touch pass toward his teammate.

Zelarayan receives the pass from Santos and turns toward the New York goal.

Meara and Etienne have disentangled, allowing Meara to get back to his goal line and Etienne to shift to an offside attacking position.

Zelarayan continues forward with the ball while Zardes sets himself up for a back-post run.

Sean Davis steps to provide pressure leaving Zelarayan. The Crew’s playmaker can now attempt to beat Davis off the dribble, play a diagonal pass to Etienne who is now in an onside position or hit a through pass to Zardes.

Zelarayan spots Etienne and hits a simple pass his way. Zardes continues his back-post run.

Etienne easily receives the pass and takes a quick touch on the ball. All three other Columbus attackers have continued their runs: Zardes to the back post, Santos trailing him, and Zelarayan at the top of the 18-yard box.

The Red Bulls’ Jason Pendant steps to Etienne, leaving the winger with three options. He can attempt to beat Pendant off the dribble, hit a back-post cross to Zardes, try to thread the needle with a difficult pass on the ground to Zelarayan.

Etienne spots Zardes and hits a high, arcing cross his way.

Zardes eyes the cross and times his jump as Duncan attempts to cover the striker despite a three-inch height difference.

Zardes begins his jump as the ball drops toward his spot.

Duncan lunges toward Zardes as the Black & Gold’s striker prepares to hit a header on frame.

Zardes easily beats Duncan and heads the ball toward goal. Because of both Zardes and Meara’s positioning, the ball will have to take a high, arcing path to the far post if Zardes hopes to beat the Red Bulls’ keeper.

The ball takes an arcing path toward the back post. Meara is caught at the front post and has to watch the ball fly over his head.

Meara can only watch as the ball finds its way to the far post . . .

. . . and into the back of the net!


  1. The Crew counter pressed effectively this entire match, looking to win the ball back as quickly as possible after turning it over.
  2. Once again, quick passing slices through an opponent. Here, Artur and Santos combine inch-perfect first-touch passes with the quick thinking and deft passing of both Zelarayan and Etienne.
  3. Etienne’s pass to Zardes was perfectly aimed and timed, arced high to give striker time to get under the ball and placed in a spot where only Zardes could reach it.
  4. Zardes knew the only path to a goal was a high looping header and that’s what he did.