The Columbus Crew has a short turnaround after a wild Hell is Real Derby last Saturday against rivals FC Cincinnati. The Black & Gold took a point in the last seconds of that matchup thanks to right back Steven Moreira.
On Wednesday, Columbus looks to take a crucial three points against Inter Miami at the Lower.com Field. The Crew has four home matches remaining in 2022 and will have only two after this week. The Black & Gold need to capitalize on these home matches in order to stay in the MLS Cup playoff picture in the crowded Eastern Conference standings. Columbus is even on points with Inter and can jump as high as fifth in the East with a win and Orlando City SC loss Wednesday night.
Here’s what to expect from Miami and how the Crew can take all three points.
Inter Miami at a glance
League Form: L-W-W-D-W
Record: 10-6-11 (36 Points)
Leading Scorer: Gonzalo Higuain (9 goals)
Assist Leader: Alejandro Pozuelo (6 assists)
Player to watch: Jean Mota
Without the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Alejandro Pozuelo, Miami will need to look elsewhere for offensive production against the Crew. A likely candidate is Mota, who operates in the central midfield. Mota has been an underrated part of Inter’s team this campaign after joining Miami this past offseason.
The 28-year-old Brazilian joined Miami after an extended career in his homeland, including stints with Portuguesa, Fortaleza and Santos. Despite a relatively underwhelming offensive stat sheet (three goals and two assists) Mota often pulls the strings for Miami in the attack. He excels at receiving the ball under pressure and picking out passes to help progress the ball forward.
It will be important for the Black & Gold midfield to keep close tabs on Mota all night in order to keep the ball from being progressed into dangerous areas. If Columbus can effectively key in on Mota, the Inter attack will suffer and allow the Crew the chance to control play for the majority of the match.
How Inter Miami Play
Miami is much better in year No. 2 under head coach Phil Neville. The former England Women’s National team coach has an improved side from 2021 and has been able to adjust his tactics to suit the players at his disposal.
Neville prefers to line his team up in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation but has also employed 3-5-2 and 5-3-2 formations this year. When in these formations, Inter typically focuses on a few things tactically.
First, when in possession, Miami often looks to quickly progress the ball forward via different passing patterns and combinations. Essentially, Inter wants to progress the ball forward as quickly as possible, often via quick, short passes. That being said, if there is time and space for a long, direct diagonal ball, Miami won’t hesitate to play it. This type of style in possession lends itself to effective counter attacks, but also the ability to quickly pounce once Inter pull the opponent’s backline out of its defensive shape.
Defensively, Miami often employs a high defensive line but often lacks intense defensive pressure up the field. Inter will keep a high line to try and limit the space that the opponents have to play in, however, they don’t always apply intense pressure to the ball high up the field. At times this season, this has caused major issues for teams who have been able to play through these defensive lines and attack Miami’s backline far away from their goal.
How the Crew can win
The Crew needs three points from this matchup. As the season gets closer to Decision Day, home matches become more and more important. The Black & Gold have 12 points on the table at home, which could go a long way in determining whether or not they make the postseason. Here are a few things Columbus can do to make sure the team gets three of those 12 home points Wednesday night.
Head coach Caleb Porter mentioned several times in his postgame press conference after the Hell is Real Derby that he felt the Crew was in control until beginning to give the ball away to FC Cincinnati on Saturday. This statement leads to one of the guiding principles of Porter’s teams: keeping possession.
Porter loves to use possession as a means to move the opponent and create numerical advantages to lead to goal scoring opportunities and to control the flow of the match. When the Black & Gold limit their giveaways and maintain good chunks of possession, the games usually swing in their favor. In addition, Miami’s attacking style is well suited to counter attack Columbus once the team wins the ball back and catch an exposed Crew backline.
The Black & Gold will need to maintain good possession of the ball and try and finish every attack with a meaningful attempt on goal. Obviously, this is near impossible to do on every occasion, thus, Columbus will also need to be cautious about where and how the team loses the ball. For example, losing the ball on a bad cross out of bounds from an outside back is far better than losing the ball in a bad pass from a central midfielder. If the Crew can control possession and limit dangerous turnovers, the Black & Gold will be able to put Inter under a lot of pressure.
In addition to maintaining possession, Columbus needs to play through Miami’s defensive lines as often as possible in possession. As mentioned, Inter usually pushes the defensive lines high up the field. Despite this, Miami rarely applies intense pressure to the ball high up the field. This should allow the Crew the opportunity to play through these defensive lines with little to no resistance, when the Black & Gold are able to play these balls, they’ll be able to quickly attack a disorganized Inter backline and beat several Miami defenders with one or two passes.
If Columbus can maintain possession for the majority of the match and play through the Inter defensive lines early and often, the Crew will be well on their way to a crucial three points at home Wednesday night.