The Columbus Crew kept the team’s MLS Cup playoff hopes alive with a dramatic, last-minute, come-from-behind victory against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. The Crew’s postseason push continues Wednesday night as the Black & Gold battles Charlotte FC on the road.
This game will start a bit different from others, as it is the resumption of a postponed match earlier this year. Thus, the circumstances of this match are a bit different than a normal match day.
Regardless, a win on Wednesday will put Columbus in a great spot to climb back into the playoff spots and earn a postseason birth. Here’s where to expect from Charlotte and how the Crew can take all three points.
Charlotte FC at a Glance:
Record: 13-2-17, 41 points
League Form: W-W-W-L-L
Leading Scorer: Karol Swiderski (10)
Assist Leader: Ben Bender (6)
Player to Watch: Karol Swiderski
Swiderski is making a push to be included in the Polish national team’s trip to Qatar this winter with 10 goals and four assists so far in 2022. Swiderski got off to a slow start in Charlotte but has quickly gained form.
An excellent striker in the buildup, Swiderski’s ability to hold the ball up and bring teammates into the attack has been crucial for Charlotte this season. That being said, Swiderski really shines inside the 18-yard box as his off-ball movement and potent finishing make him a problem for any defense.
The Crew backline, who will be without center back Jonathan Mensah, needs to be focused on denying Swiderski the ball and doing a good job of tracking his movement in order to keep him from finding the back of the net.
How Charlotte plays:
For all of the confusion surrounding Charlotte this year, including the team's former technical director Marc Nicholls joining the Black & Gold before the 2022 season and firing the head coach after just 14 matches, Charlotte has been able to play some good soccer in its inaugural campaign. Since the manager change, Charlotte has remained committed to a few things tactically.
Typically, Charlotte looks to maintain the majority of possession during the match. When able to do so, Charlotte often attempts to create overloads in the wide areas of the field. This is often done by outside backs overlapping wide attacking players to join the attack. Columbus fans will remember this well from former Crew player and current Charlotte FC outside back Harrison Afful, who makes overlapping runs often.
When Charlotte is able to create these overloads, the team looks to quickly attack the central areas that have been stretched to make up the difference out wide or looks to continue attacking the wide areas to exploit their advantage. A large number of Charlotte goals have come from crosses in these wide areas.
Defensively, Charlotte is very similar to the Crew. Charlotte usually looks to defend in a mid-block when the opponent has established possession. However, right after losing the ball, Charlotte looks to swarm and counter press in an attempt to win the ball back right away and maintain possession. In addition, there is a clear emphasis for Charlotte on winning the second balls after a more direct aerial ball is played by the opponent.
When done effectively, these strategies allow Charlotte to dominate possession and maintain control of the match.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold can take a huge step forward with a win, as Orlando City SC and Inter Miami play each other on Wednesday. This ensures that with a win, Columbus can jump into an MLS Cup playoff spot with just one match left in the regular season. Here are two things for Columbus to focus on in order to take a massive three points on the road.
When the Crew has the ball, there are two things the team can do to attack Charlotte. Recently, the Black & Gold have been really effective when playing progressive, line-breaking passes into their striker and central attacking midfielders. This can be shown by both of the goals last week, and many throughout the year. By doing this, Columbus enables the team’s best attacking players to be on the ball in uncomfortable moments for the defenders.
Thanks to the Crew’s pace and quality on the outside, this tactic forces the opponent to either defend centrally and leave wide players open, or leave the Crew’s best attackers 1 v. 1 in the center of the field. When the Black & Gold are able to effectively get the ball into these areas and read the defense, they have been really dangerous this season.
In addition to attacking the central parts of the field in the attacking third, Columbus should be able to have success switching the point of attack quickly against Charlotte. The team had a lot of success with this in its most recent matchup with Charlotte before it was postponed and will need to be able to do it again. When able to do so, the Black & Gold create other 1 v. 1 matchups on the wings for wide attackers such as Luis Diaz and Derrick Etienne Jr. In addition, it allows fullbacks Steven Moreira and Pedro Santos to make supporting runs into the attack.
Defensively, there is a worrying trend developing for Columbus. The Crew hasn’t kept a clean sheet in four matches and a huge part of that has been the team’s ineffectiveness in defending the top of the penalty box. The Black & Gold encourages their opponent to attempt a lot of crosses into the 18-yard box. In order to counteract that, Columbus drops a lot of players centrally to deal with these crosses. The Crew then largely vacates the central areas on top of the penalty box.
When the opponent is able to pick up the ball in this position, it causes problems for the Black & Gold backline. As mentioned, Charlotte looks to cross the ball often and will likely pump a lot of balls into the 18-yard box tonight. For Columbus to keep a clean sheet and take a huge three points, the team will need to defend this space very well on Wednesday.