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Crew tactical review: Black & Gold settle for a point at home

Through the weather delay and the rain, Columbus secured a point on Sunday despite looking off throughout the match.

Ralph Schudel - Massive Report

The Columbus Crew gained a point at home on Sunday night with a 2-2 draw with Atlanta United. After going down 1-0 in the first half, a pair of Cucho Hernandez goals gave the Black & Gold the lead before a late corner allowed an Atlanta equalizer.

Columbus was able to pull out the tie despite looking lackadaisical throughout much of the match This came as a surprise as the Crew was at home against a side that sits near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Let’s dive into some of the tactics that head coach Caleb Porter employed for this contest to at least avoid another loss.

Artur’s Movement

Coming back from injury, Artur has looked solid in the past few games for the Black & Gold. On Sunday, the Brazilian was all over the pitch being the do-it-all man and fulfilling two certain roles that Columbus needed on the night.

Firstly, Artur was integral in pressing for the Crew. Oftentimes, when Atlanta had a goal kick or possession deep in the team’s half, the central midfielder’s job would be to mark the split and make sure that United couldn’t advance the ball by passing between Black & Gold players in the middle of the pitch. Artur simply man marked the back of the split player and made sure that if he did receive the ball, he could not turn and transition the ball further up the field.

Secondly, Artur sometimes acted as a temporary pivot if Columbus needed an extra man to get out of Atlanta’s press. The away side opted to press very high on the Crew’s center backs, using the attackers and midfielders to create numerical mismatches for the Black & Gold’s backline. When this happened, Artur dropped in between center backs Jonathan Mensah and Milos Degenek to provide support and offer another option to break the press. If the press was broken, Artur returned to his natural midfielder position and continued the build-up play.

These little roles that Artur plays may seem insignificant, but they had a huge impact on turning the tide of the match.

Cucho Hernandez’s Runs

Something very different from the game last week against the Colorado Rapids was the spots where forward Cucho Hernandez decided to make his runs. Last week, the Colombian scored by running in on goal and hoping for a tap-in finish, but his runs were different in Sunday’s match.

When wingers Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr. or later Kevin Molino streaked down the wing, Hernandez set up shop at the top of the 18-yard box or at the penalty spot, while playmaker Lucas Zelarayan or another winger made the diving run toward goal. Hernandez hoped that the defenders would be drawn toward their own goal by these runners and then he could have an easy look for a goal from a bit further out.

This exact scenario happened on the Black & Gold’s second goal. Fullback James Sands absolutely dropped two Atlanta defenders and played a perfect ball through the defense into Hernandez’s feet, which he controlled and dispatched with little issue. These types of runs keep defenses on their toes and give the Columbus wingers and wing backs multiple options in the middle. If Hernandez is marked at the penalty spot, then Zelarayan or another winger could be open closer to the six-yard box.

What the Crew has to Improve

Although this game ended in a draw, the Black & Gold looked on the back foot for large parts of the game and yet again failed at an opportunity to grab three points at home. There are a few things that Columbus must do better if the team is to string together results and really make Field a fortress for opposing sides.

Firstly, the Crew has to mark corners better. Out of the 10 corners that the Black & Gold face, six of the crosses were met first by a player from United. That comes to a mere 40 percent clearance rate, including the tying goal coming off of a corner. Teams that are bad at defending set pieces are every fan’s worst nightmare to watch. Needless to say, Caleb Porter and the coaching staff need to sort that out.

Secondly, Columbus needs to get Darlington Nagbe more involved in these games. In this match, Nagbe was virtually invisible, making a few passes and tackles and had no real impact on the game. A player of Nagbe’s quality needs to be the focal point of the Crew’s build-up because he can make magic happen out of nothing.

Lastly, the Black & Gold needs someone else to step up. Hernandez and Zelarayan have carried the team since the Colombian arrived mid-summer. It is good that Columbus hit on the signing of Hernandez, but there will come a time when teams are able to key on him and make someone else beat them. The Crew needs that unsung hero to step up and make some noise on the field. Diaz has been impressive over the past few games, but only time will tell if he can be that guy.