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Crew tactical review: Black & Gold grab a point out West

Columbus grabbed a point on the road due to subtle changes and sticking to the gameplan

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew managed a 1-1 on the road against Western Conference side Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. After forward Cucho Hernandez opened the scoring early in the game, the Black & Gold were stagnant in attack and allowed Colorado to equalize via a penalty kick In the 41st minute after a Steven Moreira handball.

This was a cagey game with lots of fouls committed by both teams highlighted by the number of cards that the referee handed out. Columbus’ tactical set up was consistent with the past few games, but there were some nuances that stuck out.

Let’s dive into what the Crew did against the Rapids.

Consistent offensive pattern of play

It seemed like every possession for the Black & Gold featured a scripted idea of where the ball should/would go. Many times when Columbus regained the ball in the team’s own territory, the ball was passed around the back until it reached either Moreira or left back Pedro Santos. From there, the ball made its way to one of the Crew wingers, often right winger Luis Diaz. This allowed Diaz to take on his defender one v. one and look to cross the ball back into the middle of the field toward his fellow attackers.

This pattern was incredibly prevalent throughout the game and both positive and negative effects on the result.

Head coach Caleb Porter said before the season started that he wanted to get more statistical production from his wingers. So far this season, they have succeeded, often times providing assists for the other attackers and even putting in goals of their own. The main positive of playing this pattern lattely has been the revelation of Diaz. The Costa Rican has been on a tear over the past few games, highlighted by his two of assists against New York City FC last week.

In this game, Diaz often caused the defense problems, drawing fouls and stretching the defense with his speed. His continued form is something to look out for over the next few games.

Unfortunately, playing this style also had some negative effects for the Crew as well. The main problem was that central midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Artur were not on the ball as much as usual, which was a big issue. Nagbe and Artur’s creativity and play in the middle of the pitch was missed on Saturday. At times there was space to exploit down the middle, but the Black & Gold was bent on attacking down the sides. This shouldn’t be a long-term issue for Columbus, but was noticeable in this match.

Cucho Hernandez dropping into midfield

When Hernandez first signed with the Crew, many fans thought they had finally found their sought-after striker of the future to replace Gyasi Zardes. There were many reports of Hernandez’s versatility and ability to play on the wing, but Black & Gold fans didn’t expect Hernandez to drop and play in the midfield as often as he did on Saturday night.

Granted, Hernandez isn’t a set midfielder in the team’s formation, but he often finds himself drifting back on offense to help Columbus build going forward, as well as coming back defensively to win the ball back. It was surprising to see that playmaker Lucas Zelarayan often stayed higher up the field than Hernandez while the Crew was in possession in the team’s half, and it was instead the Colombian that checked back and then finding Zelarayan’s feet.

Slowing the pace of the game

This was something that the coaching staff certainly instructed the players to do going into this match. Colorado wants to draw opponents into a very open, counter attacking game, which is not the style that Porter and the Black & Gold want to play. The Rapids’ strategy is effective because when they lose the ball going forward, other teams look ahead and see a chance to counter, when in reality the Colorado defense is set up and ready to capitalize on a misplaced pass or touch.

In the moments of the game where Columbus looked in control and dangerous were when the team slowed the pace and possessed instead of throwing haymakers at the Rapids’ backline on the counter. It takes longer and doesn’t look like the Crew is making progress going forward, but as the team switched the ball and play simple passes, the opposition began to back up and get anxious without the ball. The Black & Gold did this best in the opening 15-20 minutes of the game, as well as throughout parts of the second half and looked like the more controlled and better team in these moments.

If the whole game had been played at their pace, maybe Columbus would come out of the match with all three points, but the Crew will settle for another point on the road this time around.