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Anatomy of a Goal: Zardes and the Crew break the Red Bull press

This week, we look at Gyasi Zardes’s 22nd minute goal against the New York Red Bulls.

Columbus Crew SC v New York Red Bulls - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

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

For match two of the MLS is Back Tournament and match four of the 2020 MLS Season, we take a look at Gyasi Zardes’ 22nd-minute goal against the New York Red Bulls that gave the Crew a lead the team wouldn’t relinquish.

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

You might be noticing a pattern here. Yes, it’s another Zardes Anatomy of a Goal. Fortunately, the goal itself was pretty straight forward - Pedro Santos turned on a perfect throw-in and found Zardes for an easy shot. So, we’ll spend more of today’s analysis looking at how the Black & Gold broke down a Red Bull press that has given the team fits for the last five years. Let’s get started.

This goal begins with Eloy room intercepting a New York throw-in.

Room leaves the ball for Darlington Nagbe who then plays a pass wide to Josh Williams.

Notice how the Crew has lined up here. When building from the back against the Red Bulls, Columbus has one of the center midfielders split the center backs while the other sits in the space right behind the two furthest forward pressing players for New York. The Black & Gold will move the ball around the back three trying to bait the Red Bulls into pressuring one of the center backs. When they pressure, the further forward center midfielder will be open for a quick pass and then an outlet to one of the wide full backs.

That’s a lot of explanation but stay with me, we’ll see exactly how this press-break works.

Williams takes a step forward and quickly plays the ball back to Nagbe. New York continues to hold its block.

Nagbe plays a quick pass forward to Sebastian Berhalter to engage the Red Bull press.

Berhalter is pressured by Daniel Royer and plays a pass back toward Nagbe that instead trickles back to Room.

Room quickly passes out to Jonathan Mensah to reset the build-up.

With New York’s pressers moving toward the backline, Mensah quickly passes back to Berhalter in the open space behind the pressers.

Berhalter turns up the field to see whether the attacking sequence should move forward but quickly notices five Red Bull defenders closing out his options.

So, Berhalter resets the play back to Nagbe.

Nagbe tries another option and slides a wide pass out to Williams.

Williams is quickly met with resistance and resets back to Nagbe. Notice how stretched the Red Bull press has gotten.

Nagbe rotates the ball back over to Mensah.

New York takes this opportunity to press and send two defenders right toward Mensah. This triggers Berhalter to track toward Mensah with no defenders nearby. Chris Cadden, on the far right flank, provides a quick outlet for Berhalter and to set the attack moving forward.

Mensah plays to Berhalter as Cadden tracks a few feet back.

Berhalter immediately plays wide to Cadden setting off the attack. The Crew has broken the high press.

Cadden spots Lucas Zelarayan and hits a pass toward the No. 10.

Zelarayan hits back to Cadden on the give-and-go.

Cadden runs into resistance in the Red Bull middle block and drops a pass back to Zelarayan.

New York swarms the Argentine attacker.

Fortunately, the ball is knocked out of bounds off the Red Bulls.

Cadden picks up the ball for the throw-in and spots Santos open with yards of space in front of him.

Cadden throws a skipping ball in front of Santos, letting the Portuguese winger run onto the ball.

Santos nears Aaron Long as Zardes runs behind the Red Bull defense.

Santos uses his pace to get around Long and immediately hits a pass into the path of Zardes. The forward times his run perfectly and is just kept onside by Kyle Duncan.

Zardes takes a touch on the ball into the penalty box and immediately has a chance to shoot.

The Columbus striker aims to the right of David Jensen.

Zardes’s shot beats Jensen and travels . . .

. . . into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. The Black & Gold have never done well with the Red Bulls’ press... until Thursday night. This is due in part to New York’s dramatic squad turnover from the previous season, but the Red Bulls still run one of the most suffocating presses in the league. A few things were different in this game. First, the Crew has Nagbe, one of the best players on the ball in MLS. After that, Columbus had a simple and effective plan made possible by center backs comfortable playing with the ball at their feet. That plan involved stretching the press and looking for a central midfielder then wide pass to set off the attack. It worked.
  2. Berhalter showed excellent composure during this sequence. His quick pass out to Cadden springs the entire attack forward.
  3. Cadden’s quick thinking on this throw-in totally caught New York off guard and sets Santos on his way to the goal.
  4. Santos drew the attention of, and then embarrassed, Long, which allowed Zardes to run unabated toward the goal.
  5. Just like last week, Zardes nails a deceptively tough shot that he might not have buried in previous seasons.