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Crew tactical review: Black & Gold ends losing streak at Sporting Kansas City

After being beaten in their last four games, the Crew secured a positive result using tactics that were out of character for the team.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Sporting Kansas City Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew ended the team’s four-game losing streak on Saturday night by tying Sporting Kansas City 0-0 on the road. While a win would have been preferable to end to streak, the Black & Gold left Kansas City with a point, which is more than the team can say after many road matches the last few years.

This result leaves Columbus in 11th place in the Eastern Conference coming out of the weekend. While the Crew has struggled in recent games to find goals and produce results, Saturday night against Sporting was far different tactically than past games for the Black & Gold.

Let’s take a look at what changed.

Pressing in a 4-3-3 formation

The biggest difference from the past few games was the Crew’s pressing structure. We’ve seen Columbus press in a 4-4-2 and a 4-1-4-1, but this game, head coach Caleb Porter decided to press in a 4-3-3 formation.

This was not really groundbreaking because the Columbus came out in a 4-3-3, a change from the typical 4-2-3-1, with midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris staying up higher up the field than Artur. The nuance of the press came from the wingers and midfielders. Instead of pressing for short spurts at opportune times, the Crew man marked the middle of the field.

In doing so, either forwrd Miguel Berry or one of the wingers pressed the defender on the ball and then Morris, Nagbe and Artur stepped up to find the nearest Sporting player and stay on his back. This allowed the attackers to press the player who had the ball harder, without fear of being passed around. This also allowed the Black & Gold to win the ball in the midfield and break on the counter.

Typically, Columbus would only press when the ball got passed toward the endline to an outside back, so this allowed the Crew’s speedy wingers to close down quicker. The beauty of pressing in the 4-3-3 was that the Black & Gold didn’t have to revert to their default offensive formation, because they were already in it. While it didn’t yield a goal, the press did make Kansas City turn the ball over several times and gave the Columbus a few dangerous chances on the counter.

Sitting back in a 4-5-1 and playing more direct

This was the biggest change for the Crew. For the longest time, the Black & Gold have been the team that possesses the ball with side to side passes,and breaks down the opposition by methodical passing and patience. Many find it boring, though others around the world believe this is beautiful soccerr, but for the first time in a long time, Columbus did not play that brand of soccer.

For much of the game, the Crew was content to sit back in a 4-5-1 and allow Sporting to have the ball in the team’s own half. If the Black & Gold saw a chance to press, Columbus sent the wingers flying at the opposing defense hoping to snatch an opportunity. Other than those times though, the Crew was fine to allow the home side to hold the ball. Then, when the ball was turned over the Black & Gold would play very direct.

The Crew was fine to sit deeper in this 4-5-1 shape and allow Kansas City to have the ball, a change from most Black & Gold games.

This meant instead of playing the brand of soccer that’s associated with the club, Columbus played quick long balls, through balls and threw numbers forward in attack. This also included getting Nagbe, Morris and both wing backs forward to try and create a numerical mismatch in the opponent’s half. This left only Artur and both center backs to prevent a counter by Kansas City, a risky move but one that worked out.

The different playing style yielded a positive result for Columbus, giving a team that doesn’t perform well on the road a point to return home with, and maybe some hope for the fans that they can still right the ship.