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Anatomy of a Goal: Artur books the Crew’s ticket to MLS Cup

This week we look at Artur’s game-winning goal from the 2020 MLS Eastern Conference Final.

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 2020 MLS Eastern Conference Final, we take a look at Artur’s 59th minute goal that gave the Crew a 1-0 win against the New England Revolution, setting up Columbus as the host of the 2020 MLS Cup.

Here is a look at the historic goal from the Black & Gold’s Brazilian midfielder.

The Crew took the field against New England knowing that a win would bring the MLS Cup Final to Columbus the following week. First, the Black & Gold would have to silence the Revolution’s potent attack.

The first half of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final went almost exactly as the Crew dreamt despite the 0-0 score at the whistle. Columbus controlled 54 percent of possession and put five shots on goal to the Revolution’s zero. But for some excellent goaltending by Matt Turner, the Black & Gold would have entered halftime with at least one goal.

Artur’s game-winner begins with a Crew corner kick in the 59th minute. Lucas Zelarayan lines up to hit an in-swinging kick into the goal box .

As Zelarayan steps up to the kick, Columbus’ attackers begin their movements. Darlington Nagbe (6 in the above picture) situates himself at the top of the 18-yard box to collect any ball that makes its way out and to help break up any Revolution counter attacks. Gyasi Zardes (11) is positioned on the edge of the six-yard box to flick any short corners into the front of the goal. Artur (8, to the left of Zardes) is set up in a similar spot and is tasked with heading the ball directly on goal. Jonathan Mensah (4) and Josh Williams (3) are the two direct headed-shot targets in this play. Mensah roams free in the middle of the penalty box while Williams will collect any ball that reaches the back post.

Zelarayan’s corner makes its way to Mensah who is marked by Scott Caldwell.

The kick just misses Matt Polster but neither Mensah nor Caldwell are able to get a clean touch onto the ball.

Caldwell ends up on the ground while the both teams search for the ball, which just happens to have fallen right in to the side of Polster.

Polster finds the ball and quickly must decide whether to clear the ball, play a quick pass forward to Gustavo Bou (7) or make a short pass to Tajon Buchanan (17).

Polster scuffs an attempted clearance but slices the ball right to Buchanan.

Buchanan keeps his eyes on the ball and tees up a clearance.

The Revs’ young right back is able to get off his clearance and sends the ball toward midfield.

Harrison Afful, one of the shorter players for the Black & Gold, stayed back on defense during the corner kick and is in position to pick up Buchanan’s clearance as the ball takes an awkward bounce just before reaching him.

Afful has time to settle the ball but hits an awkward attempted pass back into the 18-yard box after the ball takes a difficult bounce.

Afful’s attempted pass ends up soaring high into the air and falling down between Pedro Santos and Luis Diaz. The Crew attackers battle Carles Gil for possession of the ball.

Diaz out-jumps Gil and glances a headed pass to Zelarayan.

Zelarayan easily receives Diaz’s header and Gil shits his defensive attention to Columbus’ No. 10.

Zelarayan collects the ball and the Black & Gold begin a secondary attack. Mensah had tracked back defensively, but sees open space ahead of him. Williams tracks back to provide defensive cover as his center back partner rejoins the attack. Artur also shifts forward into an attacking position.

Zelarayan’s deft ball-work to beat Gil and send a cross into the penalty box is worth a look at in slow motion before we break it down.

First, Zelarayan makes a hard cut with his left foot, sending the ball a few feet toward midfield and setting Gil off balance. Artur and Mensah continue their runs toward the goal.

Gil scrambles to recover while Zelarayan prepares a quick Cruyff turn where he plants his left foot, sends the ball behind his left leg with his right foot and speeds off the other direction.

From this angle, you can see just how much open space Mensah has ahead of him.

Zelarayan’s Cruyff turn sets Gil off balance and sends the Crew attacker toward the goal.

From the TV angle, you can see Gil plant hard on both feet after Zelarayan has already gone the other direction.

Zelarayan carries forward with Gil trailing. Artur and Mensah set up at the top of the 18-yard box. From this angle, you can see Artur and Mensah turn to look at each other. Both players know exactly where the other will be, setting up Mensah’s eventual pass into the path of Artur.

Zelarayan is out in front of Gil and has four options. He can play a quick pass forward to Santos, attempt to carry the ball forward, try a difficult through pass to Zardes or a back-post cross to Mensah.

Columbus’ No. 10 spots his captain at the back post and hits a long cross into the 18-yard box.

Mensah settles into position. If the ball makes it past Buchanan, the captain will have the chance to take a first-touch shot or make a quick pass. Artur sprints into the box to provide a passing option for his teammate.

Mensah is too far out to try a headed shot so he prepares to receive the ball with his feet. Buchanan is about three yards away and just turns in time to see Mensah prepare to receive the ball. Artur sprints, unmarked, toward the top of the box.

Mensah receives the ball and can either take a touch toward the goal, hit a first-touch shot on goal play a quick pass into the path of Artur or play a pass toward Zardes on the other post.

Mensah knows that Artur is trailing just behind him and that he will be making a run into the box, so he plays a first-touch pass toward the midfielder.

Polster is on the wrong side of Artur, giving the Brazilian a direct path toward the ball.

Artur approaches the ball, with Polster attempting to defend with four options. He can try to find Zardes near the six-yard box, hit a first-touch shot on goal, attempt to carry the ball forward or play a pass back to Mensah.

Artur hits a first touch shot with his left foot. Somehow, the Brazilian is able to put a slight curve on the ball that sends it just inside the goal post.

Artur’s shot speeds between Henry Kessler and Buchanan leaving Turner as the Revolution’s last line of defense.

Turner lays out for the ball as it rolls toward the goal line.

The ball misses Turner’s finger tips by a few inches . . .

. . . beating the New England goalkeeper and rolling . . .

. . . into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. A lot happens in this goal. The initial corner kick is relatively straightforward, avoiding any sort of highly designed set plays for near-, middle- and far-post runs.
  2. The Revs do well to clear the ball but aren’t able to get past Afful. Afful similarly does well to hit the ball back toward the goal but is unlucky to slice a high pass toward his left rather than into the goal.
  3. Diaz’s contribution here is a small one but it is significant. The young winger beats Gil to the 50-50 ball and sends a pass to his No. 10.
  4. Zelarayan displays some excellent skill in possession of the ball. He embarrasses Gil with a quick cut and a Cruyff turn before hitting an excellent cross to Mensah.
  5. The positional awareness the Crew display on the secondary attack is excellent. Afful, Nagbe, Diaz and Williams all track back on defense to allow Artur and Mensah to push forward. Then, Artur and Mensah have excellent awareness of where the other is to set up the goal.
  6. Mensah takes a difficult ball out of the air and plays a perfect pass on the ground to Artur, all with one touch.
  7. Artur’s shot didn’t look as impressive on TV as it did from the rear-angle shared later. He uses his left foot to put spin on the ball that sends it JUST inside the goal-post.