The Columbus Crew had a relatively uneventful 0-0 draw last Saturday at home against the New England Revolution. After the scoring prowess of new signing Cucho Hernandez and the exciting win against FC Cincinnati, the hope was the good times were here at Lower.com Field. While the result was disappointing, the Crew did make it nine matches unbeaten and has made a huge jump in the standings in the past month and a half.
On Saturday, the Black & Gold travel to face expansion side Charlotte FC for their first trip to the Queen City. Much has been made about the expansion side despite a rocky start to the team’s first Major League Soccer campaign. CLTFC is squarely in the MLS Cup playoff hunt, sitting two points below the postseason. line, and looks to maintain the team’s excellent home form in this matchup.
Here’s what you can expect from the match and how Columbus can take all three points.
Charlotte FC at a Glance:
Record: 8-2-12, 26 points
League Form: L-L-W-W-L
Leading Scorer: Andre Shinyashiki (6)
Assist Leader: Ben Bender (5)
Player to Watch: Ben Bender
The No. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick has hit the ground running for Charlotte in the team’s first campaign. Bender leads CLTFC in assists and is the focal point for creativity in the Charlotte attack.
Bender mainly operates on the left wing but has also played in the central attacking midfield role at times as well. The Maryland product excels at breaking defensive lines, either via passing or dribbling. Bender has also shown a great passing vision in the final third.
In addition, Bender has shown the ability to finish chances when given enough time and space around the penalty box. The CLTFC attack has a good number of natural finishers but not a ton of creators like Bender, thus, if the Crew is able to slow Bender down, the team will severely limit the Charlotte attack on Saturday.
How Charlotte plays:
For all of the confusion surrounding Charlotte this year, including the team’s former technical director Marc Nicholls joining the Black & Gold before the 2022 season and firing the head coach after just 14 matches, CLTFC has been able to play good soccer this year.
Since the manager change, Charlotte has remained committed to a few things tactically. Typically, CLTFC looks to maintain the majority of possession during the match. When able to do so, the expansion side often attempts to create overloads in the wide areas of the field. This is often done by outside backs overlapping wide attacking players to join the attack. Columbus fans will remember this well from former Crew player and current Charlotte FC outside back Harrison Afful, who makes these overlapping runs often.
When Charlotte is able to create these overloads, the team will look to quickly attack the central areas that have been stretched to make up the difference out wide or will look to continue attacking the wide areas to exploit their advantage. A large number of CLTFC’s goals have come from crosses in these wide areas.
Defensively, Charlotte is very similar to the Black & Gold. CLTFC usually looks to defend in a mid-block when the opponent has established possession. However, right after the team loses the ball, Charlotte FC looks to swarm and counter press in an attempt to win the ball back right away and maintain possession. In addition, there is a clear emphasis for Charlotte on winning the second balls after a more direct aerial pass is played by the opponent. When done effectively, these strategies allow CLTFC to dominate possession and maintain control of the match.
How the Crew can win:
The MLS season enters the home stretch soon and this match is a great chance for Columbus to signal its intent to the rest of the league. Crew players and head coach Caleb Porter have all talked about the importance of finishing in the top four in the Eastern Conference and getting a home playoff match. A victory in Charlotte could kick start that run for the Black & Gold.
Here are a few things for Columbus to focus on to win on Saturday.
Charlotte has been very good at home, thanks in large part to the crowd. There is no doubt that a large home crowd can spur a team to high performance, and the Crew will need to look to take the fans out of the match as much as possible.
There are two main ways for the Black & Gold to do this. The most obvious is to score the first goal. Not only would this give Columbus a big advantage in the match, but it will also deflate the crowd and limit their ability to impact the match. Another way for the Crew to do this is to be dominant in possession. In addition to the tactical benefits of controlling the ball for Porter’s squad, forcing CLTFC to defend a lot and not allow the team much time to attack will also take the crowd out of the match. After all, nobody wants to watch their team defend constantly for 90 minutes.
Defensively, the Black & Gold needs to be really good at handling the Charlotte attack in wide areas. The wingers and outside backs will need to be excellent defensively for Columbus on Saturday in order to limit the opportunities Charlotte’s overloads in wide areas.
To do this, the Crew wingers need to be well positioned when CLTFC has the ball. They also will need to be willing and able to track back defensively to try and slow Charlotte’s attacking fullbacks. In addition, the Black & Gold center backs and goalkeeper will need to be ready to deal with a large number of crosses, which is where the majority of CLTFC’s goals come from. If Columbus is set to take three points on Saturday, the Crew will need to effectively deal with these crosses for the entirety of the match.