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Anatomy of a Goal: Zardes caps off dream week with brace

This week, we look at Gyasi Zardes’s second goal from Sunday’s Hell is Real Derby.

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 10 of the 2020 MLS Season, we take a look at Gyasi Zardes’ 71st minute goal against FC Cincinnati that gave the Crew a 3-0 lead as part of yet another Hell is Real Derby win.

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

The Black & Gold entered the third Hell is Real Derby of 2020 on the back end of a hard-fought win against the now second place Philadelphia Union. In the previous match against Cincinnati the Crew struggled to breakdown Jaap Stam’s defensive system, leading to a disappointing draw against the southern rivals.

Zardes was a surprising snub from Sunday’s starting lineup with Fanendo Adi stepping into the starting 11 for the first time this season. Columbus fans shouldn’t expect to see Adi getting time over Zardes as any sort of sign favor because the forward had a busy week that might have necessitated a a substitute appearance, as he turned 29 and celebrated the birth of his fourth child very near to Sunday’s match.

The Black & Gold’s third goal in this match shows how the Crew used short passes and fluid movement to break down an otherwise stingy FC Cincinnati defense.

Let’s start our review with the ball at the feet of captain Jonathan Mensah. Mensah picks up the ball following a Luis Diaz-won free kick on the FC Cincy side of the field. The Columbus captain plays a quick pass over to Josh Williams as Artur drops into the area for support.

Williams carries the ball until he meets Cincinnati pressure and then quickly slides a pass over to left back Milton Valenzuela.

Valenzuela slides the ball forward and then quickly plays the ball up the field to Darlington Nagbe.

Nagbe receives the ball in between the two FC Cincinnati defensive blocks. The midfielder’s positioning forces right center back Mathieu Deplagne to break his lines, leaving Pedro Santos open on the sideline.

Nagbe quickly plays the ball out to Santos.

Deplagne recovers onto Santos, who then drops the ball right back to Nagbe.

Nagbe and Santos continue their passing work, with Nagbe pushing the ball right back to Santos.

Santos spots some space ahead of Nagbe and plays a pass in front of the midfielder.

Nagbe runs onto the pass and immediately drops the ball back to Santos.

This back-and-forth between Santos and Nagbe has drawn multiple Cincinnati defenders toward the Black & Gold attackers. As FC Cincinnati attempts to box in these two, the team loses its defensive shape and opens up various other lanes of attack for the Crew.

Santos receives Nagbe’s drop while the American cuts back toward the midfield line.

Santos performs a tidy bit of on-the-ball work as Joseph-Claude Gyau attempts to take possession of the ball. The Portuguese midfielder uses his left foot to take the ball behind his right, and flicks a pass right over to Nagbe.

Nagbe picks up the clever flick and immediately has three options. He can play a drop-back pass to Williams, a diagonal pass back to Artur or carry the ball toward the middle of the field.

Additionally, notice that seven FC Cincy defenders are packed into this small section of the field. That leaves only three Cincinnati defenders to cover the five Columbus players spread throughout the rest of the field.

Nagbe opts to drop the ball back to Williams, resetting the attacking move.

Williams settles the ball and quickly plays a pass forward to Artur.

Artur turns and resets the ball to Mensah.

The Black & Gold have given FC Cincinnati time to reorganize but have also spread out the defense by dropping the ball back. Now, the Crew captain can play a diagonal pass to Williams, hit a pass right back to Artur or carry the ball away from Jurgen Locadia’s pressure.

Mensah turns and plays the ball over to Williams.

Williams picks up the ball at as the FCC defense collapses toward the center back. Six Cincinnati defenders are present in the area around the midfield circle, leaving Artur open right in the middle of the field and Valenzuela open on the sideline.

Williams fires a pass up to Valenzuela as Deplagne heads toward the left back.

Valenzuela turns toward Deplagne and has three options. He can play a quick pass forward to Santos, attempt to beat Deplagne off the dribble or a diagonal pass to Nagbe.

The Argentine left back quickly passes forward to Santos and then makes a run up the sideline.

Santos recognizes Valenzuela’s move and hits a pass into the path of his left back, who will easily outpace Deplagne to the ball.

Valenzuela runs toward the ball with a full seven FC Cincy defenders on the wrong side of the play.

By drawing Cincinnati toward the midfield with quick passing, Columbus has used a single pass to break through the FC Cincinnati lines.

Valenzuela spots Nagbe and quickly slides the ball over to the midfielder.

Nagbe lets the FC Cincy pressure find him and has four quick options. He can play a through pass to Zardes, a long diagonal pass to a wide-open Luis Diaz, carry the ball forward or a long square pass to Afful.

Nagbe spots Diaz and hits a pass right to the winger. Notice Andrew Gutman’s positioning. He is deployed as the Cincinnati left back but is, at best, in the very middle of the field. This FC Cincinnati overload leaves yards of open space for both Diaz and Afful.

Diaz meets the ball and can play a few different ways. He ahas a through pass to a potentially offside Zardes, he can attempt to beat Gutman off the dribble, shoot the ball or turn the ball back toward Afful.

Diaz decides to have a shot, and launches the ball toward Przemyslaw Tyton’s goal.

Unfortunately, the ball is deflected up into the air, but right toward Afful.

Afful spots the ball and heads an excellent pass into the path of Zardes.

Zardes lets the ball take one bounce and hits a shot at Tyton on the half-volley.

Tyton gets lucky to have his face get in the way of Zardes’ shot because the ball travels right through his arms.

Deplagne attempts to chest down Tyton’s save but isn’t able to prevent the ball from bouncing too far forward.

Zardes spots the errant chested ball and tees up a second shot.

Somehow, Zardes is able to get a clean shot on the ball, sending it past Tyton . . .

. . . into the back of the net!


  1. This goal is broken up into two main sequences, the intricate passing and moving that culminates in a Diaz blocked shot and the bit of chaos following that block.
  2. In the initial buildup, the Crew use simple but effective passes to pull the Cincinnati defense over to one side of the field. This may not have been as effective with the game tied at zero, but down a goal, FC Cincinnati was much more likely to go for the steal rather than sit back and hope for a draw.
  3. In much of this match, Nagbe showed how effective he can be as a substitute No. 10. He drops much deeper than traditional No. 10s but still is able to act as a controlling offensive cog. In this build-up, he links with both Santos and Valenzuela to easily control the ball and pull FC Cincy out of shape. Once the Black & Gold broke down the defense, Nagbe makes the pass that leads right to Diaz’s shot.
  4. Afful’s headed pass is absolutely perfect. He finds Zardes right in the middle of the penalty box.
  5. Zardes does well to both get on the end of Afful’s headed pass and to beat Deplagne to the ball for his shot that soars into the goal. A true poacher’s goal from Zardes and a great cap to a dream week.