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Anatomy of a Goal: Zardes extinguishes the Fire

This week, we look at Gyasi Zardes’s win-sealing goal against the Chicago Fire.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

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 six of the 2020 MLS Season, we take a look at Gyasi Zardes’s 88th minute goal against the Chicago Fire that gave the Crew a 3-0 lead and capped off the team’s fifth win of the season.

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

It was tough to choose a goal for this week’s analysis with three outstanding finishes. Derrick Etienne’s first goal with the Black & Gold came off some clever play from a midfield free kick while Darlington Nagbe’s world-class thunder strike speaks for itself.

Luckily, Zardes’ goal is yet another team goal that provides us with a look at Caleb Porter’s system and a peak at Nagbe’s skill operating as an attacking midfielder.

Zardes’ goal begins with goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, who stepped in for the injured Eloy Room and led Columbus’ defense to yet another 2020 shutout. Tarbell quickly slides the ball out to team captain Jonathan Mensah.

Mensah turns to carry the ball forward and plays a quick pass out to Harrison Afful.

Afful takes a look up the field but drops the ball right back to Mensah.

Mensah looks up the field and plays a long diagonal pass toward Artur. Notice Artur’s head positioning here. As soon as he saw Mensah playing the ball his way, Artur clocked Ignacio Aliseda looking to provide pressure. Artur turns his head to find Williams and will then turn back to receive the pass. By doing this Artur gives himself the option to quickly turn and find Williams and to shield the ball away from Aliseda.

Artur shields the ball from Aliseda and plays a quick pass back to Williams.

Williams looks toward the midfield and plays a long pass up the sideline to Milton Valenzuela.

Valenzuela carries the ball until he meets defensive pressure. The Argentine left-back has three options: a square pass to Sebastian Berhalter, a diagonal pass to Nagbe or a pass up the sideline to Black & Gold newcomer Emmanuel Boateng.

Valenzuela hits a pass around the Chicago defender and into the path of Nagbe.

Nagbe picks up Valenzuela’s pass and heads toward the Fire goal. For the first time in his Crew career, Nagbe is deployed as an attacking midfielder here. Pedro Santos started out in the No. 10 role against Chicago with Lucas Zelarayan sitting out this match with an injury. Santos played well but the offense was listless for most of the second half.

In the 66th minute, Porter brought on Sebastian Berhalter for Luis Diaz, sliding the young midfielder back into a holding midfielder slot while pushing Nagbe up to the attacking position and Santos out wide.

As a holding midfielder, Nagbe is known for his ability to retain possession of the ball. As an attacker, Nagbe was decisive, playing a direct role in both second half goals.

Nagbe slows his pace so the offense can develop around him. This allows Alvaro Medran to recover on defense and leaving Nagbe with four options. He can play a quick pass over to Boateng, beat Medran off the dribble, play a through pass to Zardes or a long diagonal pass to Santos.

Nagbe hesitates for one second and then sends the ball forward into space, easily beating Medran toward the goal.

Nagbe dribbles right into the teeth of the Chicago defense and finds himself with two passing opportunities. a through pass to Zardes or a diagonal to Santos.

Nagbe plays the safe diagonal pass to a wide-open Santos as the Fire defense collapses around the ball.

Santos has yards of space to operate as Nagbe’s pass heads his way and Chicago’s defense scrambles to recover.

As Santos prepares to receive the ball he will have to quickly decide whether to use his first touch to put a shot on goal or to play a pass toward Zardes at the back post.

Santos hits a pass toward the back post as Zardes sprints into the ball’s path.

Let’s take a quick look at the alternate angle to check whether Zardes was onside. From this angle, when Santos touches the ball it appears that Zardes is just behind the ball and onside.

Zardes has no one between him and the goal as Santos’s pass travels toward him.

Zardes times his run perfectly and loads up a left-footed first-touch shot on goal.

Zardes’s smashes a shot toward Bobby Shuttleworth’s goal...

. . . and into back of the net!

Findings:

  1. Once again both Crew center backs display excellent passing. In this system, most of the best attacking moves start in the back
  2. Nagbe is already one of the best holding midfielders in MLS, but his play as an attacking midfielder provide an added wrinkle for Columbus. Now the Black & Gold have three strong options at the No. 10 and can use Nagbe as a tactical style change, with his ability and preference to drive the ball forward with direct play.
  3. Zardes once again proved that he can score confidently and comfortably when he receives good service. Santos set him up perfectly and Zardes finished off the Fire with his off foot.