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Anatomy of a Goal: Mokhtar keeps the Crew perfect

This week, we look at Youness Mokhtar’s game-winning goal against Atlanta United in the MLS is Back Tournament.

Atlanta United FC v Columbus Crew SC - 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 three of the MLS is Back Tournament and match five of the 2020 MLS Season, we take a look at Youness Mokhtar’s 18th minute goal against Atlanta United that gave the Crew a 1-0 win and completed a perfect run through the group stage.

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

The Black & Gold entered Tuesday’s match against Atlanta with a chance to secure three more points on the MLS season as well as complete a perfect group stage. The Crew did just that, setting the tone early on and holding off some tired legs and a late Five Stripes surge to see out the result.

This roster has certainly taken to Caleb Porter’s preferred possession and build-up style, eschewing the counter-attack focused scheme that saw success at the end of the 2019 season. We have discussed Porter’s system in this spot all tournament, and Mokhtar’s goal is yet another example.

In this system, Columbus’ outside backs push high and wide as the center backs pass to and from the central midfielders, usually with one midfielder setting up centrally just behind the first line of opponent defense and the other operating with more freedom. This stretches out the opposition defense allowing for quick switches of play and overloads. Once an attacking lane has opened, the outside backs or midfielders will quickly turn into the attack.

Mokhtar’s game-winner shows this system in action, with eight players combining on 19 passes. Let’s take a look.

The first pass in this goal comes from Jonathan Mensah, who rebounds an Atlanta United clearance to Darlington Nagbe.

Nagbe deftly hits a pass forward to Artur with the outside of his foot.

Artur has pace to carry forward and does. The Brazilian midfielder then slides a pass forward to Mokhtar.

Mokhtar meets defensive resistance and quickly turns back to play a drop ball to Milton Valenzuela.

Valenzuela collects himself and evaluates his four options. He can play a pass back up to Mokhtar, a diagonal pass to Artur, a square pass to Nagbe or a drop ball to Aboubacar Keita.

Valenzuela chooses the safest option and drops the ball back to Keita.

Keita then resets the attack by passing the ball over to Mensah. Notice the current positioning of the Black & Gold. Afful has pushed out wide while Nagbe is just behind the two furthest forward Atlanta players.

Mensah turns and plays a quick entry pass to Nagbe. On the far side of the field, Afful takes a step across the midfield.

Nagbe hits a first-touch pass right back to Mensah and Afful drops back in support.

Mensah turns to find Afful and plays a long pass to him on the wing.

Afful carries into pressure and then must decide whether to play the ball forward to Pedro Santos or slightly backward to Nagbe.

Afful touches the ball back to Nagbe and drops into space to receive a pass back.

Nagbe completes the give-and-go to Afful.

Nagbe makes a run forward after completing the pass to Afful, dragging his defender with him and opening up a passing lane for Afful to find Artur in the middle of the field.

Artur prepares to receive Afful’s pass as Pity Martinez sprints toward him to apply pressure once he receives the ball.

Artur puts his body between Martinez and the ball, and uses his first touch to send the ball toward the midfield line and away from Pity. Martinez’s momentum carries him away from Artur, freeing the Crew midfielder to work without pressure.

Artur carries the ball a few yards forward and quickly drops the ball back to Keita.

Atlanta over-committed to their defensive left (offensive right) which leaves Keita space to carry the ball all the way to the midfield line.

Keita hits midfield and turns to find Artur with a quick pass.

Artur switches field again, finding Afful pushed forward with yards of space ahead of him.

Afful carries forward and finds himself with four options as the Five Stripes struggle to regroup. He can play a touch pass forward to Luis Diaz, a long pass forward to Santos, continue carrying the ball forward or a drop pass to Nagbe.

Afful spots Santos running unmarked toward the 18-yard box and hits a lofted pass toward the attacking midfielder.

Afful’s pass is a little too low for Santos, who settles the ball and quickly plays a square pass to Mokhtar.

Mokhar turns and slides a pass out toward Valenzuela just before Mohammed Adams can reach him to provide defensive pressure.

Valenzuela prepares to receive the pass and has three options. He can drive toward the goal, cross the ball into Zardes or play the ball back to Mokhtar, who has continued his run forward.

Valenzuela hits a perfectly-weighted first-touch pass right back toward Mokhtar. Both Adams and Franco Escobar have lost track of Mokhtar, allowing the winger to freely drift toward the goal.

Miles Robinson is the only Atlanta player to pick up Mokhtar’s run. The young center back turns toward Mokhtar as the pass moves to the center of the goal box.

Robinson anticipates a Mokhtar shot and slides in front of him to attempt a block.

Mokhtar does indeed shoot and the ball just deflects off Robinson’s trail leg.

The ball is re-directed and floats toward the goal. Brad Guzan can only watch as the ball floats past him . . .

. . . and into the back of the net.

Findings:

  1. There isn’t much to say that hasn’t been already. Columbus absolutely dissected Atlanta with this play. The deflection might have been fortunate, but 19 passes sliced through the Five Stripes and let Mokhtar take an easy shot from the penalty spot.
  2. Every pass in this sequence had a purpose, from passes trying to bait Atlanta into pressure to others making the United defense run all over the field.
  3. Mokhtar has played his the best soccer in Black & Gold during this tournament. Porter’s system gives him the freedom to cut inside as an ancillary playmaker, enabling him to use his deft dribbling and passing skills to contribute two goals and one assist through the group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament.