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Crew tactical review: The Black & Gold escape with a point at FC Cincinnati

Due to some small tactical changes, good and bad, the Crew head back home with points shared

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew salvaged a 2-2 draw in dramatic fashion on Saturday in the Hell is Real Derby in enemy territory. After giving up a first half goal, the Black & Gold leveled the game in the second half but then gave up the go-ahead striker. A late goal by right back Steven Moreira gave the Black & Gold their 12th tie of the year, keeping Columbus at seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings.

It was a frustrating game for Crew fans, who watched their team get outplayed for stretches by the in-state rivals. In the end, however, the Black & Gold able to salvage another point on the road.

Head coach Caleb Porter had some unique tactics for this game, some of which worked, and others that did not. Let’s dive into what Columbus did at TQL Stadium.

Setup in the first half

The Crew’s setup in the first half wasn’t anything fans haven’t seen before, but there were some subtle changes Porter made to try and cope with Cincinnati’s press and setup. Firstly, he set the team up in more of a 4-3-3 formation defensively than the 4-2-3-1 to try and press Cincinnati’s defender’s more efficiently. When the home side was in its own half, the Black & Gold sent the top three and attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan to try and catch Cincinnati’s back three out.

Columbus hopied that by sending that many men forward, the opposition would struggle to build out and give the Crew some chances in the attacking third. Fair play to Cincinnati though, because the team broke the press efficiently throughout the game, especially during the first half.

Secondly, winger Kevin Molino was inserted into the starting lineup. Many Crew fans were probably wondering why Derrick Etienne Jr. didn’t play for a full 90 minutes, but it was a tactical choice more than a form-based choice. Porter put Molino in to act as a pocket winger to help the Black & Gold possess and build out more efficiently. While winger Luis Diaz typically stayed wide and high, Molino dropped into central areas to get the ball to feet and provide an extra option for Columbus to build out.

The problem that arose was that the Crew couldn’t advance the ball past the team’s defensive midfielders. Numerous times in the first half, the Black & Gold gave up the ball in their defensive third, giving the home side golden opportunities to score. This sloppiness will likely be a focus this upcoming week for Porter and the coaching staff.

Controlling the tempo in the second half

The first half was not the finest Columbus performance this year. The team looked decent during the first 10 minutes of the match but struggled after that. The Crew was outpaced, outworked and just overall flat, going into the half down a goal in a hostile environment.

In the second half, the Crew was better but not amazing. The main catalyst for this improvement was how the Black & Gold finally settled in and started to control the game. Columbus began switching the point of attack and drew Cincinnati in and went on the attack.

Another change made at the halftime break was that midfielder Darlington Nagbe went back to play as a temporary pivot, so the Crew could then get the wing backs higher and stretch Cincinnati. This is something that the Black & Gold used to do every game but has since abandoned it. Having Nagbe in the back provides stability, an extra player in the build-up and it allows one of the team’s best players to get on the ball and create and that helped create more offensively.

Columbus’ woeful record with set pieces

A focus in training leading up to the derby for the Crew was set pieces. Throughout this season the Black & Gold has been incredibly poor on defending set pieces. It has not mattered if it is corner kicks, free kicks or even throw-ins, Columbus can’t seem to figure out defending set pieces.

In this game, it was Matt Miazga who made the Crew pay. The ball came into the penalty box on a long throw and was pinballed around until it found the waiting feet of Miazga, who scored off of a deflection off of Moreira.

It’s often not Black & Gold’s main defenders on set pieces that are the problem, but the third or fourth defenders and that was the case in this one. This means that while Columbus’ top defenders can hold their own marking, it’s the other players who are giving up changes.

In this instance, it was midfielder Aidan Morris marking Miazga, but he was forced to leave his mark to go defend the goal line. The next closest player to Miazga was Diaz, who got caught ball watching until it was too late, and the Cincinnati defender found the back of the net.

This just shows a lack of communication between Crew players to find marks and sort it out defensively, but it also just shows laziness. Defending is never going to be easy at the professional level, and it requires the highest amount of focus and discipline. Unfortunately for the Black & Gold, the team just doesn’t have that right now, which is why Columbus has only kept a clean sheet in seven out of 26 matches played.