After an excruciatingly long international break, the Columbus Crew return to action this Saturday at Lower.com field against fellow Eastern Conference playoff contenders, Inter Miami. Inter makes the team’s first ever visit to Columbus in its second year as an MLS franchise.
For the Crew, this represents a great opportunity to continue the playoff push at the end of the 2021 campaign. Miami, who currently sits just below Columbus in the table, has lost five matches in a row and has scored only once in those five games. If the Black & Gold are to make the MLS Cup playoffs this season, then they must take three points from this matchup.
Here’s what to look for from both sides Saturday night.
Inter Miami at a glance:
League Form: L-L-L-L-L
Record: 9-5-14 (32 Points)
Leading Scorer: Gonzalo Higuain (10 goals)
Assist Leader: Gonzalo Higuain (4 assists)
Player to watch: Gonzalo Higuain
Crew legend Federico Higuain’s little brother Gonzalo has been to the very top of the soccer world. Before joining Miami last year, Higuain had played for some of the biggest clubs on the planet, including Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid.
Now in the final stages of his professional career, Higuain doesn’t have quite the same work ethic he did at the peak of his career. However, his instincts in front of goal appear to be fully functional, tallying 10 goals in 25 appearances for Miami. The Inter attack runs almost exclusively through Higuain and the Crew will need to shut down the Argentine superstar in order to take all three points from this game.
How Inter Miami Play:
This seemed to be a question that even those closest to Inter Miami were asking early on this season. However, Inter has seemingly turned a corner and is now pushing for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Recently, Miami switched from the team’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation to one featuring three central defenders and two wing backs. While their actual formation can vary from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-2-1, it has played a big part in Inter returning to the playoff picture after a dismal start to the campaign.
This change has allowed for Miami to limit the counter attacking opportunities with two central midfielders and three defenders back at almost all times. It has also provided either another striker or an additional central attacking midfielder for Higuain to combine with. Inter will look to keep the ball as much as possible and attack quickly on the break. Defensively, Miami is not much of a high pressing side (due in large part to Higuain) and is content at times to let the opponents have the ball.
How the Crew can win:
This is a must-win game for the Black & Gold’s playoff hopes. The Crew could close the gap to just three points if results go their way this weekend, but this is only possible if they take maximum points from this matchup. Here’s what the Crew can do to make sure they take advantage of this opportunity.
First, the Crew need to dominate possession on Saturday. Miami has given up the third most goals in the Eastern Conference this year and has been vulnerable defensively in almost every match of the season. This is due in large part to the lack of interest some of their squad has in defending. If the Black & Gold can do a good job maintaining possession, it will force Inter to defend, which is an advantage for the home team.
In addition to dominating possession, the speed of play for Columbus when in possession is something for Crew supporters to keep an eye on. This generally refers to the pace at which a team is able to move the ball in possession and the speed in which that team is able to attack.
For the majority of this season, the Black & Gold’s speed of play has been far below standard. Whether this is due to injuries and rotation leading to a lack of familiarity in the squad or not is up for debate. However, head coach Caleb Porter spoke very positively of the sides attacking work in training during the international break during his pre-match press conference. If the Crew is able to move the ball quickly in possession and attack at speed, Columbus will be far more dangerous than in most games this season so far.
Lastly, the Black & Gold need to limit service to Higuain. Miami’s attack has not exactly been potent this year, however, the majority of its dangerous moments have been linked to the Argentine star. Leading the team in goals scored and assists, Higuain is usually the most dangerous attacker for Inter. As mentioned, his work rate is significantly lower than years past in his career, meaning he is happy to disappear during matches if his teammates can’t get him the ball. Thus, the Columbus backline needs to be sure to limit his touches on the ball and his involvement in the game.
If the Crew is able to do these, the Black & Gold stand a good chance of taking all three points.