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Crew tactical review: The Black & Gold offense was clicking vs. the Earthquakes

The Black & Gold came away with disappointing draw, but what were some of the tactical bright spots from the game?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew played to a 3-3 draw on Saturday against a short-sided San Jose Earthquakes squad who found their way back into the game thanks to a pair of late goals by Francisco Calvo.

Early the Crew found themselves a goal down, but up a man after Jamiro Monteiro was sent off in the 33rd minute. At the 84th minute mark, the Black & Gold watched their 3-1 lead whittled down before seeing it dissipate entirely before their eyes in stoppage time when Calvo powered home his second header of the game to secure a draw for the Quakes.

Head coach Caleb Porter did make a few notable adjustments in the game, but in the end, Columbus only had a point to show for the team’s efforts. Let’s take a look at what the Crew did tactically on Saturday.

Attacking through give-and-gos

This was one of the bright spots from the game. The Black & Gold have been so entertaining to watch because in these first two games, they go through spells of quick, but efficient, passing sequences. Once all the attackers get on the same page and start doing little one-twos around the defenders, Columbus can be a very dangerous team.

By finding numerical mismatches where the Crew attackers outnumber the defenders, the players are able to just pass around the opposition and get in to high-quality goalscoring spaces. The player who isn’t getting talked about enough in this area is forward Miguel Berry. Lots of outside noise is being directed at Berry getting the first two starts of the MLS season, but his passing so far has been superb. He has great awareness of where his teammates are on the field and his passes are laser-focused at times. Saturday, Berry missed the goalscoring touch, but he showed incredible promise for a 24 year old.

If Berry and the Black & Gold can continue to move the ball with these quick, smart passes, it’s going to be tough for teams to keep them from getting in good goal scoring spots and then keep the ball out of the net.

Using width and space to their advantage

One of the biggest adjustments Porter made was after Monteiro was sent off for his tackle on Darlington Nagbe. After he knew San Jose was down a man, Porter instructed outside backs Pedro Santos and Steven Moreira to push wider and higher to stretch the opponents even more. At times, Santos and Moreira were almost a second set of wingers, adding to the attacking threats Columbus had going forward.

Not only did this give flexibility down the wing, but it also opened up space inside for Artur, Nagbe and Zelarayan to operate in the central areas. When the defense was worried about getting beat on the outside and shifted to defend it, Zelarayan scampered down the middle. When the Quakes bottled up to keep Zelarayan in front of them, the Argentine knocked the ball out wide for one of the wingers to wreak havoc.

Unfortunately, the Black & Gold had to abandon the hyper attacking approach after San Jose’s second goal, but there were flashes of real attacking danger from the Crew in those areas.

The Gyasi Zardes substitution — Why is it brilliant?

I know what you’re thinking… the substitution was brilliant because Berry had done nothing all game and Zardes ended up scoring, but that’s not the whole picture. The substitution was brilliant because of what the Crew needed at that moment.

From the start of the game, Porter needed Berry to feed the attacking pieces around him with great passes and set them up in scoring positions. While Berry accomplished his task, he didn’t get his own name on the scoresheet even though he had opportunities to do so. When Columbus is tied and needs a goal, why don’t you put on a natural-born finisher and top-rate poacher?

Zardes was subbed on because he was what the team needed at that exact time. Berry had done all he could, helping to set his teammates up in scoring positions and aid the attack mightily, but when with an ace up your sleeve like Zardes, there are times to pull it out.

If Zardes had not scored would this substitution be as brilliant? Maybe, but maybe not. The fact of the matter is, Porter had a decision that was a no-brainer. The Crew needed a goal, Porter subbed on Zardes, he scored, and now all the U.S. Men’s National Team fans who call on Twitter for him to be dropped can rest their thumbs for a week until they figure out something else to criticize him about.

It was a brilliant move by Porter, good poachers finish by Zardes and a solid offensive day for the Black & Gold.