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What We Learned: Crew find goals against FC Cincinnati

Our biggest takeaways from another Hell is Real win.

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC concluded the team’s home slate of Major League Soccer’ Phase 1 of return to play protocols. The Black & Gold did so by defeating their Interstate- 71 counterparts, FC Cincinnati, 3-0 to continue the team’s best start in franchise history.

Head coach Caleb Porter put out a lineup that fans had not seen this season, nor expected, starting two former FC Cincinnati players in Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe. However, it was Pedro Santos and Gyasi Zardes who got the job done in the end, scoring the three goals to earn the victory.

Here is what we look away from the third installment of Hell Is Real Derby.

Super subs

Porter has been looking for help off the bench. On Sunday night, he found it.

When the starting lineup was announced an hour prior to kickoff, questions arose among the Crew faithful as to why Adi was starting in favor of Zardes. As it turns out, Zardes spent the previous two nights in the hospital with his pregnant wife and returned to the team after the birth of his fourth child. Adi got the job done in the first half, tiring out the Cincinnati defense, leaving the goal scoring for Zardes, who came on in the 62nd minute and made his presence known just two minutes later before notching a brace shortly thereafter.

But it wasn’t just Zardes that played a major part off the bench. Luis Diaz, who has been inconsistent this season, checked into the game at halftime and didn’t take long to make his presence known. His speed on the right wing was a problem for Cincinnati to deal with and he not only registered an assist on the opening goal, but continued to run at a tired backline, causing problems.

While it won’t be often that Zardes and Daiz will both start games on the bench, it’s good to see production from Crew subs that will need to continue going forward.

Cincinnati plan(ned) to stop Nagbe

Darlington Nagbe has been a target for Columbus opponents all season. His ability on the ball and to help keep possession has been a big part of the Crew’s success in 2020. Like other teams this year, Cincinnati had one goal and that was to stop Nagbe. Their attempts to do that were by fouling the Lakewood, Ohio native, including three times in a span of 10 minutes early in the match.

This tactic didn’t work, as Nagbe, playing as the No. 10, was able to create chances through the midfield and keep possession. He completed all of his passes on the night and, though his name doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, was once again instrumental in helping the Black & Gold’s build-up play.

Maybe the constant fouling of Nagbe will eventually wear him down — or maybe referees will start protecting the midfielder earlier in the games. But right now, the opposition may want to try a new tactic.

New free kick technique?

When the Crew normally is awarded a free kick around the penalty area, most of the time a shot is attempted on goal. However, against Cincinnati, Columbus deviated from that plan. At times when the Black & Gold were given a free kick in a dangerous spot, the attempt wasn’t sent in on goal but rather directed toward the back post to be played back across the goalmouth.

It’s unclear if this is a new tactical wrinkle by Porter and his coaching staff to get more from set pieces or just something that happened during the game. But it was certainly a difference and something worth keeping an eye on.

Crew broke down the Cincinnati Bus

Since the Crew defeated FC Cincinnati 4-0 at the MLS is Back Tournament, head coach Jaap Stam has adopted the “park the bus” mentality. It has worked for the most part, helping Cincinnati get out of the group at MLS is Back and managed two wins and three draws in the last seven matches, including tying Columbus 0-0 just over a week ago.

This tactic worked well again in the first half for Cincinnati at MAPFRE Stadium. The visitors were able to shut down opportunities from the Black & Gold and quickly transition to an attack, leading to a 0-0 stalemate at halftime. However, FC Cincy couldn’t keep it up.

Once the dam broke, the Crew was able to score in bunches, unlocking this Cincinnati defense. Columbus found the gaps Kendall Waston and his backline left open and played that to its advantage.

Given that more teams are likely to sit numbers behind the ball against the Black & Gold, opening up a bunkered defense like this is a positive sign moving forward.