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Anatomy of a Goal: Mensah smashes home a winner

This week we look at Jonathan Mensah’s game-winning goal that gave the Crew its second road win of 2021.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from a previous Columbus Crew match.

For match 15 of the 2021 MLS season, we take a look at Jonathan Mensah’s 65th minute goal that gave the Crew a 1-0 lead the team would not relinquish against Atlanta United FC on Saturday.

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

The Black & Gold made the trip down to Atlanta on a five-match unbeaten streak but desperately needing a win to keep pace in a tight Eastern Conference. The Five Stripes situation entering the match was much more dire having just fired manager Gabriel Heinze and needing a home victory to help keep the season from crashing down before the halfway point. Road wins are difficult to come by in MLS — before this match, the Crew had only one road win in the prior season and a half — especially with a depleted roster and a crowd of 67,000 cheering on the home side.

Columbus and Atlanta both had their chances in the first half with newcomer Erik Hurtado missing the best chance for either side. The Black & Gold started with a conservative lineup set up to counter attack out of a 4-4-2 but shifted back into a more traditional shape by bringing on Lucas Zelarayan at halftime.

With fewer than 30 minutes remaining to get an important road goal, Zelarayan lines up to take a corner kick.

The Crew sets up in a formation the team has worked on at the training ground.

The image above diagrams the movements in this set play. This play relies on Marlon Hairston flicking a near-post kick toward the back post, where three players will be attacking.

Zelarayan will play a high, driven ball to Hairston just outside the penalty box. Bradley Wright-Phillips posts himself up in the middle of the box and is tasked with attracting a defender and getting on a skimmed header from Hairston.

The remaining attackers all stack up from the penalty spot. This stack works like a basketball out-of-bounds play. The various runners will get screens from their teammates and will hope to confuse the Atlanta defense to allow one or more Columbus players to run free toward the ball. Let’s break down the runs from closest to the goal back.

Aboubacar Keita sets up at the penalty spot and will take a few steps forward. His goal is to take defenders with him and free a run from Mensah. Mensah will run off of Keita’s screen to the back post. Derrick Etienne will make a run right behind Mensah to the back post while Kevin Molino makes a further trailing run and will be in place to collect the ball should it skip past the back post.

As Zelarayan steps toward the ball Hairston makes the first run. The Five Stripes are defending man-to-man here. Hairston will hope to take at least one defender with him and will cut to the spot right in front of Santiago Sosa (5).

Both Josef Martinez (7) and Machop Chol (30) follow Hairston. This leaves three defenders with the stack of Black & Gold attackers. The stack starts its runs as Zelarayan strikes the ball.

Hairston is right on track to get in front of Sosa and will occupy three defenders. Keita occupies and screens Alan Franco. Anton Walkes should follow Mensah’s run but he gets stuck watching the ball. Ronald Hernandez is left to defend both Etienne and Molino.

Hairston waits for the ball with three defenders at his back. Keita has done well to occupy Franco but Mensah has tripped in the tangle of legs on the Atlanta turf.

Hairston easily gets the ball and skips a looping header toward the back post. Walkes shifts toward Wright-Phillips before noticing that the headed ball is looping toward the back post. Etienne is physically held up by Hernandez but Molino and Mensah are both unmarked and running toward the back post.

Mensah regains his balance and runs behind Walkes toward the back post. With Walkes watching the ball, Mensah is free to run unmarked.

Mensah and Molino both make unmarked runs toward the back post. Walkes is stuck between watching the ball and shifting toward Mensah.

Mensah eyes the ball with Walkes unable to get a body on the Crew’s captain.

Mensah doesn’t even have to jump to make an undefended, headed shot on goal.

Mensah’s header glances off Walkes, around Alec Kann...

...and into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. This corner setup is a great added wrinkle for the Crew. It might not work again but it helped secure a goal and a win. That’s worth the practice time.
  2. Hairston does a great job to both occupy three defenders and flick the ball toward the back post.
  3. Similarly, Keita grabs two defenders to help free up Mensah’s run.
  4. Mensah stumbles but is able to recover to hammer home one of the easier headed goals he’ll ever get.
  5. Both Mensah and Caleb Porter gave credit for this set play to assistant coach Pablo Moreira, who has been with Porter since his days at Akron.