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Crew tactical review: Questionable changes squander three points

Caleb Porter made some tactical switches that led to Columbus blowing a late lead.

MLS: CF Montreal at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew squandered a one-goal on Wednesday night, losing 2-1 in stoppage time against CF Montreal. A questionable change of tactics left the Black & Gold without points when the final whistle blew.

In another game that was interrupted by lightning, Columbus missed chances to double the lead and then fold in the last 15 minutes under Montreal’s pressure. It’s a loss that’s going to sting for the Crew for a whille.

Let’s take a look at the tactical changes that head coach Caleb Porter made that let Montreal get back into the game late.

The substitution of Lucas Zelarayan

A huge topic in the Crew Twitterverse after the game was the decision to substitute playmaker Lucas Zelarayan for a more defensive-style midfielder Artur. With this substitution, the Black & Gold switched from pushing toward Montreal’s goal to sitting back and defending a one-goal lead. This change was a mix of decisions the coaching staff had to make both prior to the game and in the moment.

The decision to bring on Artur was made before the game to get the Brazilian back in the team and to help get him back to playing shape after missing two months with an injury. Porter opted to take out Zelarayan partly because will he need the playamker to be fresh for Saturday’s game against New York City FC and also because the midfield trio of Artur, Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris make Columbus more sound defensively to hold that 1-0 lead.

After the match, Porter talked about how a few of the Crew starters were incredibly fatigued due to the heat and humidity, which could mean the Zelarayan substitution was more about getting some more energy and defensive presence into the side to hold the result at 1-0. On a different day with different conditions, the Black & Gold might have gone after a second goal more, but that was not the case Wednesday night.

Switching to a 4-5-1

This is a formation that Columbus played around with throughout the season. When Artur came in as a substitute in the 73rd minute, the Crew switched its shape to resemble more of a 4-5-1 rather than the 4-2-3-1 formation that the team started the game in.

The huge component of this formation was the wingers were pulled back to play more defensive. In a 4-2-3-1, the wingers play alongside the attacking midfielder and get forward to support the striker and provide width, like the Black & Gold did throughout the first half and the beginning of the second half. With the change to a 4-5-1, these wingers are no longer able to support the striker because they have to be back and defend.

This is a change that managers should and usually make late in a game to close down shop and not give the other team chances to figure out how to break down the formation. When Columbus switched to this more defensive formation in the 73rd minute, that gave Montreal 17 minutes plus stoppage time to figure out how to break down the defense and get quality chances to slot one past Eloy Room.

Again, the changes Porter made are routine changes that happen in games, but because of the conditions and fitness of the team, the Crew was forced to make changes the team usually wouldn’t make.

The Crew’s 4-5-1 in the second half against Montreal

Defending Ariel Balls and Marking Opponents

This isn’t really a tactic, it’s more just an observation of what undid the Black & Gold on Wednesday night. Both goals Montreal scored came off of looping balls that Columbus failed to deal with, and it cost the team three points.

The first goal from Kei Kamara was a great header, with the former Crew striker outjumping center back Jonathan Mensah to get to the ball first. The mistake that allowed Kamara to get the upper hand was that Mensah lost sight of him for a split second while the ball was in the air. While many players crashed towards the net, Kamara waited to see the flight of the ball. Mensah on the other hand followed the crowd and was jumping vertically to clear the ball, while Kamara was getting a running start. If Mensah had stayed tight to Kamara and followed his man instead of the ball, we might have a different result.

On the second goal, the fault was on winger Yaw Yeboah and right back Steven Moreira. Yeboah saw Joel Waterman begin to run in Moreira’s blind spot and didn’t communicate this quickly enough. This allowed Waterman to get a step on Moreira, and the perfect ball looped over the defender’s head right into Waterman’s path.

If Yeboah wasn’t going to communicate, he also could have marked Waterman easier than Moreira. Yeboah’s man, who he was marking was over on the right side of the field, outside of the penalty box and posed no immediate threat to the play. This lack of communication and poor marking cost the Crew the game on Wednesday and will leave the Black & Gold coaching staff scratching their heads.