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Crew tactical review: Halftime adjustments end in a win for Black & Gold

Caleb Porter’s halftime changes turned the tide of the match for the home team.

The Columbus Crew came from going behind early on Saturday afternoon to earning a 2-1 comeback win against Toronto FC. The Black & Gold persevered through cold conditions in Columbus, Ohio, after conceding a header in the 14th minute to Jesus Jimenez thanks to goals by Lucas Zelarayan and Derrick Etienne. This Crew now sits on a 2-0-1 record so far this season and is in first place in the Eastern Conference for the time being.

But Saturday’s win didn’t come easy. The home team struggled early, but used a change in tactics at halftime to find a Columbus to victory. Let’s take a look at how the team changed in the second half.

A more aggressive style of pressing

The press the Black & Gold employed was a game-changing factor for the Crew. Head coach Caleb Porter typically likes to press at opportune times. This means the team will instantly press after certain triggers, such as when the opposition takes a bad touch, makes a bad pass, get near the sideline in their own half or if Columbus has a numerical advantage on defense.

In the second half against TFC, after being down 1-0, Porter decided to shift to a more aggressive approach and create numerical advantages to cut the field in half for the opposing offense. When Toronto possessed the ball in the team’s own half early in the second half, the Crew shifted forward Miguel Berry, playmaker Lucas Zelarayan, winger Yaw Yeboah and then both central midfielders Artur and Darlington Nagbe to isolate the left side of Toronto’s defense.

By doing this, the Black & Gold cut down the number of passing options for TFC and created turnover opportunity for the Crew to break out and strike on the counter attack (as shown in the graphic below). To help ensure that Toronto couldn’t switch the ball, winger Derrick Etienne shifted up to play to the left of Berry in a left striker position when the press was on. This meant the only way for the Reds to get out of this press was for whoever was on the ball to play long up top to the striker.

Now the problem was dealing with Jonathan Mensah. This was the key for Columbus getting back into the game and ultimately changed the tide.

Getting more numbers in the attack

This was the main way that the Black & Gold’s offensive game plan changed in the second half. In the first 45 minutes, the Crew struggled to create and finish offensive opportunities, so Porter made the change at halftime to push Nagbe and Artur higher up the pitch. Instead of having either Nagbe or Artur dropping in between the center backs to better keep possession, the central midfielders fought to get higher and into goalscoring positions.

Not only did this get two of the Crew’s most effective long shot specialists closer to the opposing goal, but it also created mismatches against Toronto’s defense. Adding two more pieces into the attack takes attention away from Zelarayan and both wingers, allowing them to create and go into one-on-one situations.

Don’t expect Columbus to come out of the gate pushing both Artur and Nagbe up the field in future games because the drawback is that it leaves the Black & Gold vulnerable in defense. But in this contest, this adjustment was a gamble that was worth taking and it paid off in the points for the Crew.