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Crew tactical review: Black & Gold switch off and drop points again

Columbus played solid for most of the game, but couldn’t avoid more issues that led to another defeat.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Columbus Crew SC Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew fell yet again on Saturday, falling 2-0 to LAFC at Field, dropping the Crew to 12th place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of last-place Chicago Fire.

The baffling part of Saturday’s game was the way the tide changed for the Black & Gold, from the domination of one of Major League Soccer’s best teams to subjugation in a matter of minutes. An array of mistakes and poor decisions got in the way of Columbus securing at least one and maybe all three points, even though the team largely controlled the game for the first half and then some.

Let’s dive into some of the tactical decisions head coach Caleb Porter went with in this match and how they worked for the Crew.

Stacking Artur and Darlington Nagbe to send the wing backs higher up the field

This was a subtle nuance of what the Black & Gold have been doing for the past few weeks. In recent games, Artur and Nagbe have filled in on defensive duty to allow wing backs Pedro Santos and Steven Moreira to move higher up the field into attacking areas. Typically, this involves one of the midfielders dropping between the center backs while the other stays in the center of the park.

With the Crew trying and create more of an attacking threat in this game, Porter decided to gamble a little bit. He tweaked this game plan by keeping Artur and Nagbe up higher. Instead of dropping in between the center backs, Nagbe played in front of the last line of defense and Artur was in front of Nagbe in a line.

This way, the wing backs could still move up the field, with the only difference between the last few weeks being where Artur and Nagbe were stationed. This allowed Nagbe to still play a true midfield role in front of the center backs.

The downside was that when the Black & Gold were hot on the counter, the only deep players were center backs Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams.

The Crew’s attacking formation versus LAFC.

Wingers making cutting runs to the inside

This was another little tweak to try and spark the offense. At the start of the season, the Crew’s emphasis was on crossing the ball into the penalty box via the wingers or allowing the wingers to create and dribble on the outside. That changed on Saturday a little bit, with Yaw Yeboah and James Igbekeme looking more often to make splitting inside runs. What this did was force the LAFC defense to have a high level of communication to pick up runners and caused problems for the defense if not dealt with correctly and efficiently.

For this to work, forward Miguel Berry had to drop more into the midfield to create space in behind for the wingers to run into. the Black & Gold hoped Berry could draw one of LAFC’s center backs with him and then slip a ball in behind to one of the pacey wingers. This didn’t result in a goal or very many clear-cut chances but is something to keep an eye on in the coming games as Porter continues to experiment to get his team back on track.

What is going wrong with the Crew?

Firstly, Columbus simply needs to finish the limited chances that the team gets. Fans are used to seeing a Crew team that can control a game for 90 minutes while creating six to eight chances and finishing a few of them. Unfortunately, this has not been the reality of this season. When the Black & Gold gets a valuable, quality chance, they need to put it in the back of the net.

Secondly, the Crew has to quit making costly mistakes that lead to goals at the other end and points lost. There have been too many times this year where Black & Gold have conceded comical goals because of an individual or group mistake that should not happen. While much of the play has been good enough to get results, these sloppy mistakes continue to result in a lack of results.

Lastly, Columbus needs a quality, starting striker. The Miguel Berry experiment is over and the only reason he is starting is that Erik Hurtado hasn’t proven to be the answer either. The Crew has to get this signing right in this upcoming transfer window or the season will be a waste.