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Crew tactical review: Positive play still ended in a draw

Columbus dominated most of the game on Saturday against the Revolution, but had no goals to show for it.

Sam Fahmi - Massive Report

The Columbus Crew kept the team’s unbeaten streak alive on Saturday with a scoreless draw against the New England Revolution, stretching the run to nine game. Despite not being able to score, the crew played positively but just lacked that finishing touch in the final third once again. The result kept the Crew in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings after a strong push in the past few games.

Columbus’ approach was different tactically from recent games. Let’s dive into what head coach Caleb Porter did in the match.

Allowing New England’s center backs to play the ball

When scouting and preparing for this game against the Revolution, Porter identified the New England’s center backs as possible weak links in the opposing team’s lineup due to their lackluster ability to play the ball out of the back. The Crew adjusted the team’s defensive structure and strategy accordingly so that they could hopefully exploit the Revolution and get a leg up in the game.

The major change was to lay off the press until the Revs got near midfield, or when a player other than the center backs received the ball. The Black & Gold often sat off and marked other players in hopes that the opposing center backs would play a bad pass or make a bad decision that Columbus could capitalize on and counter.

This is why fans didn’t see the Crew press as high as in other games and why sometimes the ball would turn over to the Black & Gold as New England tried to build out of the back.

The Crew defended in a 4-4-2 formation with Cucho Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan pressing the opposing wide backs as soon as they received the ball from the center backs. The wingers and defensive midfielders then man mark the opposing midfield players and waited to pounce on a bad pass or touch from the Revolution.

This change was based on this specific opponent, so it will be interesting to see if the Black & Gold used this later in the year against other teams.

Playing a counter attacking style

On Saturday Columbus played with high energy which was highlighted by the team’s style of play. Typically, the Crew value keeping possession and making lots of passes before going at the opponent, but the downside to that style of play is that the other team can set up defensively and be ready for the impending attack.

Instead of playing that style against New England, the Black & Gold looked to attack on the counter to catch the opponent off guard. This often meant winning the ball and then immediately going wide, finding Hernandez or one of the wingers to run at the Revolution defense. Columbus also flooded numbers forward trying to overload the opposing defense so that the team could have an unmarked attacker to find.

Because of this style, Hernandez often abdicated his striker position and drifted wide to receive the ball and have an angle to run at defenders. This is why the Crew was so thrilled to sign Hernandez, because his versatility means that he can be a true No. 9, but can also drift out wide and be an attacking option down the wing when needed. Fans saw how he folded New England’s Andrew Farrell with a simple cut of the ball due to his speed and ability to use either foot.

Diagonal and overlapping runs

This is something that the Black & Gold have done on and off for a while, and it has to do with the attacking prowess of Columbus’ outside backs. With talented attacking wide backs in Pedro Santos and Marlon Hairston, the key is to figure out how to get them high up the pitch to provide an attacking option. Porter’s take on this matter is to have wingers Derrick Etienne Jr. and Luis Diaz pinch more towards the inside of the field to be closer to Zelarayan. This leaves space on the outside for Santos and Hairston to move into and serve crosses into the penalty box.

The wingers also had free reign to make long diagonal runs all the way across the field to keep the defense on their toes. If one defender from the Revolution didn’t communicate or mark up these diagonal runners, Diaz or Etienne could run full tilt at the goal unmarked.

Unfortunately for the Crew, none of these overlapping or diagonal runs resulted in goals, but it is something to watch out for in the next few games. If teams can’t communicate and cope with these runners, they will have more problems than just going up against Hernandez and Zelarayan.