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Crew tactical review: Minor changes made as Black & Gold tie at home

There were a few changes for the Crew in a draw against Chicago.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew tied yet another game on Saturday afternoon, this time 0-0 against Eastern Conference bottom feeders, the Chicago Fire. This marks the 13th game that the Black & Gold have drawn this season, compared to only winning nine and losing just six.

This tie comes at a time when Columbus needs to start picking up points to put distance between the team and the rest of the East in the MLS playoff race. That did not happen.

Tactically, the Crew didn’t change much, but there were a few things that stuck out from the game. Let’s dive in.

A predetermined pattern of play

This is something that has occurred over the past few games for the Black & Gold. It is not uncommon for teams to have a certain style or pattern of play that they try to employ in a game. Sometimes it is to expose a certain team, but other times it could be the head coach wanting his squad to have a certain identity.

Whatever the reason is, the Black & Gold have played in a specific way in certain areas of the field over the past few games. The goal for Columbus is to attack the flanks and then serve a ball into the middle for forward Cucho Hernandez or another attacking player to get on the end of the cross.

The Crew starts by keeping possession and swinging the ball from side to side until the team gets the look that head coach Caleb Porter and the players want. If a winger or wing back is open near the touchline, the Black & Gold try to play the ball to feet. The next step is a judgment call by the wide player to either take the defender on or find a pass inside. If the pass is open inside, the pair might try a one-two passing combo to get around the defense and free up the winger to play in a cross.

Keep in mind that this pattern of play is not something that Columbus does on every possession, but the team is definitely trying to build the attack down the wings.

Midfield with no set positions

Over the past two games, the Crew midfield has looked more fluid and interchangeable on the attack. The midfield trios over this time have not been bound to a certain position or spot on the field, but instead they are each playing certain roles.

The first way they are doing this is by dropping into the pivot position to help out in possession. Typically it is one of the two defensive midfielders who drops in between the center backs to help swing the ball.

Secondly, Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris occupy the space in between the center back and wing back. This happens so that then the wing backs can push as high as the wingers, and then the wingers can pinch towards the inside of the field. The Black & Gold do this to push more players in the attack and have more dynamic attacking threats on the outside areas.

Lastly, the midfield trio is allowed to interchange positionally to either counter or get the ball. This is commonly seen with playmaker Lucas Zelarayan dropping deep into midfield to receive the ball and try to kickstart a move, but Morris and Nagbe do this also. Nagbe has the ability to make runs toward the opponent’s goal, although he does so infrequently. If the chance is there for him to get into the attack, he will vacate his deep-lying position and go upfield.

This freedom in midfield is supposed to capitalize on Columbus’ creativity in that area of the field, but it has yet to lead to wins on the pitch.

Short set pieces

One of the things the Crew has started to do over the past few weeks is to utilize short set pieces from non-shooting areas. Oftentimes, this is tapping the ball to a second player standing over the dead ball situation and then building off of that. Other times, it’s a set play that Porter and his staff have come up with.

The common denominator on these plays has been Hernandez. The Black & Gold like to find the Colombian on these short set pieces to give him opportunities to get a clean look on goal, typically at the top of the penalty box. Sometimes this looks like the rest of the attackers making runs inside the 18-yard box, but Hernandez instead circles back in hopes that his defender will go with the rest of the runners.

These short set pieces are yet to result in a goal, but it looks like Columbus is set on trying to make them work. Of course with Hernandez, it’s only a matter of time until he finds the back of the net, and if the Crew is setting him up to get clean looks, it will be sooner rather than later that he converts on a short set play.