The Columbus Crew is back in action on Saturday, this time on the road against Sporting Kansas City. This match follows a disappointing loss for the Crew this past Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup, falling to USL Championship side Detroit City FC 2-1. In addition to their Open Cup failure, the Black & Gold are winless and goalless in their last three MLS matches.
Due to their recent form, Crew head coach Caleb Porter finds himself firmly on the hot seat, at least in the eyes of some of the fan base. With all of that in mind, this matchup with Kansas City will easily be the biggest game for Columbus so far in 2022.
Sporting is another team in a downward spiral, having lost its last three matches and won twice all season. With a win, the Black & Gold can quickly look to get their season back on track. A loss and things could begin to spiral out of control.
Here’s a look at what Kansas City will bring to the table and how the Crew can get a much-needed three points on Saturday.
Sporting Kansas City at a glance:
League Form: L-L-L-W-L
Record: 2-0-6 (6 Points)
Leading Scorer: Rémi Walter (2 goals)
Assist Leader: Ben Sweat, Felipe Hernandez (1 assist)
Player to watch: Rémi Walter
With talisman Johnny Russell listed as questionable, Walter becomes the focus for the Crew. The 26-year-old Frenchman joined Sporting in December of 2020 and is in great form so far in 2022.
Only scoring three times in 39 previous matches for Kansas City, Walter is off to a hot start in 2022 with two goals in eight matches. Walter is usually deployed as a box-to-box central midfielder for Sporting but has taken a more attacking role so far this campaign, pulling the strings for the Kansas City attack with his ability to pick out passes in the final third. Walter is also crucial in helping Sporting circulate the ball in possession and switch the point of attack to help navigate through opposing defenses. In addition, Walter’s left-footed delivery has caused opponents problems all year long on set pieces.
With Designated Player Alan Pulido out and Russell’s questionable status for this match, look for Walter to pick up the slack in the Kansas City attack. The Crew midfield and backline will need to do a good job limiting his touches on the ball and providing adequate pressure when he does receive the ball in order to shut down Walter’s influence.
How Sporting Kansas City Plays:
Kansas City boasts the longest-tenured MLS head coach in Peter Vermes. In his time at the helm, Vermes has turned Sporting into a perennial contender in the Western Conference and has led Kansas City to an MLS Cup victory in 2013 as well as four Open Cup triumphs. A large part of his success is due to his tactical consistency and his ability to make subtle changes when needed.
Typically, Vermes chooses to set up in a 4-3-3 formation. The shape of the midfielders is usually a triangle, however, Sporting will rotate between having one player operating in a playmaker type of role, or having two players at the top of that triangle to support the attack. Regardless, Kansas City looks to apply defensive pressure high up the field and force the opponent to play long balls. When opposing teams do try and play through this pressure, as Columbus will likely try and do, Sporting looks to create turnovers near the team’s attacking goal and quickly exploit their opponents.
When in possession Kansas City is a bit of a hybrid of attacking styles. Typically, Sporting tries to move the ball side to side in the team’s half before finding a long ball or diagonal ball to break into the opponent’s half. Once the ball is in the opponent’s half, Kansas City looks to maintain possession and move the ball side to side in order to disorganize the opponent’s defense.
With that being said, when Sporting has the chance to counter attack, the team won’t hesitate and will use the speed and quality of players like Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi and Russell to do so.
How the Crew can win:
The Crew desperately needs to get back on track and capitalize on a good performance, which the team hasn’t done for some time now. Here is how Columbus can do that.
First and foremost, this match presents an important mental challenge for the Black & Gold. Simply put, it’s time for a response from the Crew. Both the manager and players alike have felt unlucky in some of the recent results. But at a certain point, and players admitted this, there needs to be a response from Columbus. This doesn’t mean significant changes in playing style necessarily, but rather a change in urgency and intensity in this match.
Tactically, there are also a few things that the Black & Gold can do to gain an upper hand in this match. Similar to the Orlando City SC match last week, the Crew needs to find a way to win the midfield battle. With Lucas Zelarayan likely out, there will be some changes to the Columbus midfield. Whatever those changes are, the Black & Gold needs to do a good job of controlling the game through the midfield.
Since each side usually deploys three players in the central midfield, the team that’s able to dominate this area of the pitch will gain a huge advantage. For the Crew, there needs to be an emphasis on effectively defending this area of the field. Not only does Walter play in central midfield for Sporting, but Columbus will likely find itself a man down in this part of the field when Kansas City has the ball thanks to the Crew’s usual defensive 4-4-2 shape. If this is the case, the Black & Gold’s midfielders and wingers will need to do a good job supporting each other and eliminating this numerical advantage.
In addition to controlling the midfield, the Columbus needs the wide players, both wingers and outside backs, to play well in this match. Due to Sporting’s high pressing nature, the Crew should be able to beat this pressure by finding the outside backs in possession. When the team does this, the outside backs will need to do a good job of helping the Black & Gold continue to attack. Most importantly, the outside backs will need to continue to progress the ball forward whenever possible. Whether by passing or dribbling the ball forward, the outside backs can help the Crew attack with more numbers when receiving the ball.
In addition to the impact the outside backs can have, the wingers could cause all kinds of danger in the attack as well. Kansas City’s full backs are often left 1 v. 1 with their opposing wingers. Columbus’ wingers should look to exploit this and run at the opposing outside backs. When they do this, not only will they be able to potentially beat their opponent and attack the goal, but they will also free up the Black & Gold’s outside backs to join the attack, as the team did so successfully earlier this year.