The Columbus Crew return to action on Saturday night against second-year MLS club Inter Miami. This will be the first matchup between the two clubs after the strange COVID-19 season did not see these two play each other. It will also be the Black & Gold’s first trip to Miami since the Miami Fusion was an MLS team.
Columbus looks to erase the memory of the team’s recent defeat in Florida at the hands of Orlando City SC and pick up valuable points in the push to the MLS Cup playoffs. Here’s what we can expect from both sides.
Inter Miami at a glance:
League Form: W-D-W-W-L
Record: 7-5-9 (26 Points)
Leading Scorer: Gonzalo Higuain (8 goals)
Assist Leader: Gonzalo Higuain (4 assists)
Player to watch: Gonzalo Higuain
Yes, Black & Gold fans, this is Crew legend Federico Higuain’s little brother. The younger Higuain, now in the twilight of his career, has been very productive for Miami this year.
Higuain has led the Miami attack for the majority of the season, leading the tea team in both goals scored and assists so far in the 2021 campaign. With a playing background at some of the world’s biggest clubs, including Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan and Juventus, Higuain took some time to adjust to the MLS in his inaugural season last year. However, he appears to have turned the corner this year and his production (unlike his work ethic) surely can’t be questioned.
The Columbus defense will need to be keenly aware of Higuain’s whereabouts on Saturday night as the vast majority of Miami goals this season have seen his involvement. If the Crew can stop Higuain, the visitors will stand a good chance of taking all three points.
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 usual 4-2-3-1 formation to one featuring three central defenders and two wingbacks. While Inter’s actual formation can vary from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-2-1, it has worked wonders for Miami, losing only once in the seven matches since the change.
This change has allowed for Inter to limit the counter-attacking opportunities with tow 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. Miami looks to keep the ball as much as possible and attack quickly on the break.
Defensively, Inter is not much of a high-pressing side (due in large part to Higuain) and is content at times to let the opponent have the ball. This change has led to a much more predictable style for fans and players alike mwhich has no doubt contributed to the much-improved results on the pitch.
How the Crew can win:
This is going to be an important match for the Black & Gold. Miami is directly behind Columbus in the standings and has an additional two games to be played. Also the Crew is in desperate need of some confidence and a road win against one of the more in-form sides in the league would do the team a world of good.
To get a win the Crew must firstly, and probably most importantly, score the first goal in this match. Columbus been consistently playing from behind for the past two months and it has no doubt had a massive impact on the team's form.
The way that the Crew and Porter want to play is not well suited for trying to mount a comeback due to the team’s patient possession-based style. There is no doubt the Black & Gold have done well to still earn points at times in these come-from-behind situations, however, tying matches can only push Columbus so far in their search for a playoff position.
In addition, if the Crew can score first and control the game, it will play directly into the team’s hands as Miami will be forced to apply more defensive pressure,, which will create gaps in the defense for the Black & Gold to exploit.
Columbus also needs to win the midfield battle in this match. More specifically, the Crew will need to be able to convincingly defend the midfield when Inter is in possession. Due to the difference in each teams formations, the Crew will likely face a 3 v. 2 disadvantage in the central midfield. The Black & Gold will need to mitigate Miami’s advantage in order to be solid in defense in this match.
Look for Columbus to try and add an additional body into the midfield when possible by either pushing the team’s wingers inside defensively, or dropping an attacking midfielder (presumably Lucas Zelarayan) into the midfield to help even out the numbers. Doing so, would be a huge benefit to the Crew and could be a massive reason why they either win or lose this match.
Lastly, the Black & Gold needs to dominate possession. It’s no secret the importance that Porter and his staff place on having the ball and it could play right into their hands in this match. Miami is one of the weakest defensive teams in the MLS and if Columbus is able to maintain possession and force Inter to defend consistent and threatening attacks, eventually they will crack.
Dominating possession will also allow the Crew to control the flow and tempo of the game, which is something they have not been able to do enough of to date.