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Know Your Enemy: Columbus Crew -- Part Two – Game Film Review: Tactics, Exploitation, and Points of Interest

The second installment of Waking the Red’s Know Your Enemy series, previewing Toronto FC’s upcoming opponent, Columbus Crew – focusing on game film review (how they score and how they are scored upon) as well as some points of interest.

Josh Williams celebrates with the Nordecke -- TFC best mark him on set-pieces, lest he - and they - have more to cheer about.
Josh Williams celebrates with the Nordecke -- TFC best mark him on set-pieces, lest he - and they - have more to cheer about.

Game Film Review – Tactics

When planning for Columbus it is tough to look past the threat of Federico Higuain, their attacking midfielder, who pulls the strings in the middle of the pitch.

Granted, as mentioned in Part One, he has struggled to have the same impact as last season in the face of additional preparation and focus from the opposition, but he remains their most dangerous attacker.

Whether from dead-balls – especially corner kicks, as will be looked at shortly - or from open play, he has the ability to cause trouble when afforded time and space.

He has not yet scored from a direct free-kick this season after introducing himself as exceptional at the art last season, but his lone goal from the run of play, against Chivas in the season opener, was a stunning right-footed strike from distance.

A loose ball is won by Columbus and worked to Higuain in space above the arc. He has time to lift his head up, pick his spot and thrash an effort past Dan Kennedy in the Chivas goal off the inside of the right-post.

His other goal on the season came from the spot against DC in the recent 3-0 win, while he missed another attempt against New York.

Higuain is due for a breakout and Toronto must watch him carefully on Saturday, particularly when he doesn’t have the ball and is probing for those pockets within which to operate.

One of the new features the Crew’s attack, in part, designed to make space for Higuain by stretching the play, is Dominic Oduro and his blistering pace.

Acquired in a trade with Chicago in the offseason – sending Dilly Duka and the rights to Robbie Rogers in exchange for the Ghanaian – Oduro has been solid, leading the team in scoring with four goals.

His pace is well known in the league – his goal against Chivas is an excellent example, a lung-bursting solo effort, streaking the length of the pitch from a defensive corner kick to score late.

But perhaps more impressive has been his predatory finishing against Montreal and Philadelphia.

Against Montreal he stole a looping redirected ball off the foot of Hassoun Camara and blasted it his to the top far-corner from the left side of the box, while against Philadelphia it was from the right that he struck from an impossibly tight angle after Eddie Gaven played him low towards the end-line.

That goal evidences the other major threat that TFC will face on Saturday, Columbus’ tricky movement in and around the box.

With the likes of Higuain, Gaven, Jairo Arrieta, and even Ben Speas - whose clever shielding on Philly’s Brian Carroll gave Oduro time to strike in the goal above – Columbus has a plethora of attack-minded individuals who are good with the ball at their feet, can pick a pass, and tend to look for holes in the defense, rather than matching up physically.

Arrieta, the front man, is more of a bounder than a physical threat – though he is capable in the air – and his hold-up play tends to revolve around getting the ball to feet and linking play.

The following sequence that led to Oduro’s opening goal in the recent first-half thrashing of DC shows Arrieta’s varied qualities.

He pounces on a missed header from Brandon McDonald – rather than getting bogged down in a straight up physical contest with the big centre-back – and makes a chance. Once thwarted, Gaven picks up the scraps out wide, feeds back in to Arrieta, who collects the ball, turns towards goal, and makes space to send a pass through the goal-mouth for the streaking Oduro to finish.

In stark contrast to that silky forward play is the bruising nature of their back-line.

The absent Chad Marshall has always been a danger on set-pieces, while Glauber – who scored against TFC during preseason at Disney – has already scored his first MLS goal, against San Jose from a corner kick.

Then there is Josh Williams, whose threat from set-pieces was noted repeatedly in last season’s Know Your Enemy looks at Columbus; he has already scored three this season, all from dead-balls – two corner kicks and a free kick - including this finish against DC, not as nice as his one against Chivas but more recent.

Toronto, who has struggled with their marking on set-pieces, had better have addressed those deficiencies in training during their ten-day break, lest they be punished once more by the aerial presence of Columbus.


On the other side of the ball, Columbus is not without weakness.

Their marking in the box has been rather sloppy.

Tim Cahill and Jeff Larentowicz’s game-winners both came from Columbus losing individual battles for headers in front of goal, while Edson Buddle’s opener for Colorado came when Atiba Harris was able to lay the chested ball into the path of his strike partner, who arrived late and could not be stopped by the defenders.

Cahill’s was a rebound and Buddle may have used his arm to control the ball in retrospect, but to not track the run of Larentowicz on a flicked Jalil Anibaba long throw from the right, especially given how under siege their defense was at the time, is unforgivable.

That lack of alertness and the inability to duly recognize danger, not to mention a dire lack of pace, when combined with a dangerously high back-line, has ended poorly for the Crew.

Philadelphia’s nimble Jack McInerney had a field day with that tragic mix of attributes, scoring the opening goal that day on a virtual three-on-none after Amobi Okugo’s ball had shredded the Columbus defense and Danny Cruz unselfishly squared to his teammate for a simple finish.

Robert Earnshaw will find joy against that combined lack of awareness and high-line, if Columbus does not tighten their defending.

Perhaps as a consequence of having to focus on retreating into shape in the face of speedier attacks, Columbus has failed to pressure the ball-carrier once within shooting range.

DC’s Rafael’s long-range bomb was perhaps more fluke than anything, but Daigo Kobayashi’s blast is more indicative of a back-line retreating, leaving the defending to the midfield with disasterous consequence.

It was a pretty nice strike though.

Nobody on Toronto has show such ability from distance this season, but Reggie Lambe has one of those in his locker, perhaps Jonathan Osorio, if given half a chance.

Points of Interest

This is the first of three meetings this season with the second in Toronto on July 27th and the third in Columbus on August 17th.

In sixteen all-time meetings between the Trillium Cup rivals, Toronto has only a single win – 2-4 in 2011 on goals from Nick Soolsma, Ryan Johnson, Julian de Guzman and Danny Koevermans; Tommy Heinemann and Andres Mendoza scored for the Crew – and seven draws.

Columbus won all three meetings last season, 0-1 in Toronto and two 2-1 results at Crew Stadium. Prior to the Crew’s 2012 win in Toronto, the two had tied five straight at BMO Field.

The Duncan Oughton switch of allegiance from Columbus Yellow to Toronto Red will be an interesting side story to this match.

Oughton is a legend amongst the Columbus faithful; first as a player, then as a man of many hats, fulfilling roles as assistant coach, assistance technical director, television analyst, radio host, and club ambassador.

Check out his last appearance on their Inside the Crew radio show, and a response from the Columbus fans on the Massive Report Podcast – the opening panicked dramatization alone, is worthy of the listen, plus they rag on Canada and TFC fairly heavily throughout.