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Crew tactical review: Minor changes result in shared points

The Black & Gold didn’t change much from the road win but there were little adjustments that were noticeable on Sunday.

Ralph Schudel - Massive Report

The Columbus Crew picked up a point at home on Sunday against a depleted Philadelphia Union squad, drawing 0-0 at Field. Although missed chances and referee decisions were a hot discussion topic after the game, the Black & Gold ended up with a positive result against a good Eastern Conference opponent.

Columbus still sits in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings but is unbeaten in its last five games with a new signing about to enter the fold. The hope is that striker Cucho Hernandez will help turn these ties into wins for the rest of the year.

Tactically, the Crew didn’t change much from the team’s midweek clash with Toronto FC, but there were a few nuances that stuck out on Sunday. Let’s dive in.

Aidan Morris’ freedom to roam

Yet again on Sunday, Morris was all over the field making tackles, passes and getting onto the ball as much as possible. He was clearly given the green light to roam free around the field to make as much of an impact as possible.

At times when the Black & Gold wanted to get the wingbacks higher up the field, Morris dropped into the backline alongside center back Jonathan Mensah to allow wing back Steven Moreira the ability to go forward. This also made switching the ball easier because Columbus had an extra player to control possession in the back.

During other moments, Morris was up as high as on the field the striker position to help the Crew press and try to turn the ball over. After Philadelphia broke the press, the young player was on the sprint back to his midfield spot.

This freedom to move around seemingly freely is not usually given to many young players in a system, but it fits Morris perfectly due to his ability to run and his awareness of where he needed to be in certain situations. His work rate is so immense that he can affect the game with his running and versatility, and that’s exactly what he did on Sunday.

The Black & Gold’s 3-5-2

Columbus dominated much of the game on Sunday at Field and looked very positive going forward. But when the Union did get on the attack, the Crew looked even stronger. This heavily had to do with the new formation head coach Caleb Porter has instituted over the past few weeks, the 3-5-2.

This particular formation is known for its ability to change based on which team has possession. On defense, the Black & Gold played more of a 5-3-2, or even at some points a 5-2-2-1. This five-defender formation is what made it hard for Philadelphia to have quality chances going forward consistently. With three experienced defenders in Mensah, Josh Williams and Milos Degenek. Columbus’ defense was more organized and was able to earn another clean sheet at home.

Consider this another puzzle piece that Porter has in his arsenal to pull out if the Crew is protecting a lead and needs to shell up and park the bus. It is not the sexiest brand of soccer to watch, but the Black & Gold operate out of this formation very well, and it gets them results.

The late change to a 4-2-3-1

As the match wore on and Lucas Zelarayan’s goal was disallowed, Porter decided to make a personnel change by subbing off Degenek and replacing him with Derrick Etienne Jr. This move was Columbus going all in to try and find the goal to get three points.

At that moment, the Crew switched out of the 3-5-2 formation and into the team’s more traditional 4-2-3-1. This was a more attack-minded formation with substitutes Etienne and Kevin Molino on the wings to bring speed and energy to go at the tiring Union defense. The wingers pinched toward the inside of the field to allow fullbacks Pedro Santos and Moreira to overlap and give the Black & Gold even more options in the attacking half of the pitch.

There were points when Columbus threw all the attacking bodies forward except for Williams and Mensah, who stayed 10 yards inside Philadelphia’s half to prevent any counter attacks from the Union. It ultimately didn’t result in a goal, but it was the ambition of the Crew to chase a goal and fo for the win that was positive to see.