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Know Your Enemy: Columbus Crew, Meeting the First - Part Two – Game Film Review and Points of Interest

The second installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing TFC's upcoming opponent, the Columbus Crew, reviewing the game-film for strengths and weaknesses, while highlighting some points of interest

Federico Higuain celebrates his delicate chip in the last league meeting between the two - here be danger
Federico Higuain celebrates his delicate chip in the last league meeting between the two - here be danger
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Part One was posted yesterday, looking over their lineup and form

The Tactics

The two words to best define Gregg Berhalter’s new-look Columbus Crew are attack and possession – facets of their game that they have really taken to heart.

Columbus have won the possession battle in all three of their matches – two of which were on the road. They held 57% in DC, a whopping 63% in Seattle, and 53% at home against a Philadelphia side that likes to keep the ball themselves.

Of course, possession is what it is – all that matters is what one does with (or, conversely, what one prevents the opponent from doing without it) – but expect them to once more have a larger share of the ball, especially against a Toronto side that prefers to strike quickly on the counter.

The other pillar to Berhalter’s evolution, attack, is an entirely different beast.

Under Robert Warzycha, Columbus often looked to keep themselves solid at the back, relying on the likes of Federico Higuain, Jairo Arrieta, and Dominic Oduro to create something special out of speed and magic.

But with Berhalter has come a controlled-abandon – it is the sort of play that can really energize a team; to be honest, attacking is much more fun, and there is a confidence that comes from the coach believing enough in his side to send them out to win, rather than just keep it tight. It becomes a game, rather than work at that point.

The first thing to note is that both full-backs, Josh Williams on the right and Waylon Francis on the left, will find themselves so advanced on their respective flanks as to look more like wingers than defenders.

As they move up-field, Wil Trapp, one of the two central midfielders, will stay deep in-between the centre-backs, who fan out to fill in for the absent wide cover.

With those extra two men in the midfield battle, Columbus’ ball-movement poses particular difficulty, as opposition defenders have too many players to keep track of and marks are easily lost with early season miscommunications.

Take their first goal against DC:

Giancarlo Gonzalez plays a ball out of the back to Hector Jimenez, who helps it on into the path of Williams. Note how advanced Williams is while his centre-back is on the ball, that anticipation, putting himself into an advantageous attacking position before the ball is safely moved up-field, causes DC to not fully recognize the danger – his equally quick ball in behind the back-line and the movement of Arrieta to get there first was too much for DC.

Their third goal that match shows a very similar ploy, but on the opposite flank with Francis and Justin Meram combining down the left, making space for a pull-back that picks out the late run of Higuain. DC’s defenders, namely Conor Doyle and Perry Kitchen, are so focused on the ball that they do not spot the excellent run from the most dangerous man on the pitch.

That overloading of the midfield assists Columbus in both moving the ball and pressing the opposition as they try to clear.

Bernardo Anor’s long-range strike against Philadelphia provides a good example.

The Union try to play the ball out of the back, but seven Crew players staying tight make it more difficult and a loose touch from Christian Maidana is pounced on and touched to Anor – the left-sided midfielder nearly in the opposite third of the pitch.

Toronto will have to be very careful should they try to play out rather than spring long – hitting a cross-field ball to pick out either Alvaro Rey or Jackson would likely be a better option than working through the crowd.

As always, Higuain is their most dangerous man – his goal above against DC shows that it may not be a bad idea to man-mark him whenever possible and be sure to track his runs.

Seattle failed to do so and he nearly struck with a lovely chip:

He beat Joe Bendik with just such a delicate chip last season – beware – and he beat Julio Cesar with a free-kick in their preseason meeting.

Despite losing the aerially dominant Chad Marshall, Columbus are still a threat from set-pieces. Any time the opponent has a top-class taker, like Higuain, one must stay on their toes.

Philadelphia’s Sebastien Le Toux lost his mark, leading to the Crew’s opener in their match, while Williams is a particular threat.


Of course, the other side of committing so many forward is that one can get caught on the counter. Take Kenny Cooper’s goal from the weekend – a turnover in midfield leaves Columbus with just one man back, and Cooper, not the most fleet of foot, is allowed to race in and finish calmly across the keeper:

Toronto really took advantage of such plays against Seattle and DC, with their pressing, goading the opponent into making low-percentage passes. But, a similar strategy failed to evolve against Salt Lake, who absolutely shredded the Toronto system. It will be interesting to see if Ryan Nelsen has structured his side well enough to capitalize on these situations or, if they will once more be given the run-around.

Somewhat similarly, Philadelphia’s goal came from a turnover, but rather than caught way up field, it was more a function of losing a man in trying to press the ball.

Anor lost the ball to Ray Gaddis, Francis, rather than defend, presses the ball-carrier, while Tony Tchani plays the cross rather than tracking the sneaky run of Le Toux. Gonzalez’s poor clearing header falls straight to the Frenchman, who puts a ball into the six for Leo Fernandes to tap in.

No doubt, Berhalter will have addressed this ball-watching flub, but the risk of having so much of the ball is that such a focus can result in other, off-the-ball movements, being overlooked.

Points of Interest

The two last met in the league back on August 17th of 2013; the home-side Columbus rolled out 2-0 winners on a Higuain brace, including the aforementioned chip.

They met this preseason in Florida, where the Crew strolled out 3-1 winners.

Columbus has dominated the all-time series, winning ten of nineteen matches and drawing a further seven. Seven of those wins and two of the draws have come in Columbus, with TFC’s lone win coming in 2011 – 2-4, on goals from Nick Soolsma, Ryan Johnson, Julian de Guzman, and Danny Koevermans.

Being Rivalry Week, this is the first of three matches that will determine this season’s rendition of the Trillium Cup – the two will meet again on May 31st in Toronto and August 9th back in Columbus.

The Crew have won five of the six inter-club competitions since it was initiated in 2008 – Toronto’s lone win came in 2011. The Columbus website has been recapping the cup’s history with some snazzy compilations: 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010.