The Columbus Crew fell on the road to the New York Red Bulls, losing 2-1 on Saturday in what was a rough night for the Black & Gold. The Crew went up 1-0 in the first half after Alexandru Matan bagged his first goal for Columbus. From there, the Red Bulls had their way, scoring two goals in the second half to send the Crew home with nothing to show for their trip.
It was a frustrating game for the Crew and growing pains plagued Wilfried Nancy’s team again in this early season. Let’s dive into what the Black & Gold did tactically in this match.
Strategy on offense
All of MLS knows that New York loves to press high, which was why Nancy said this matchup for the Crew was going to be very telling of how far the team has come. Columbus did a few things to combat this high press, but nothing materialized that led to concrete goalscoring chances.
The first thing the Black & Gold did was send the outside center backs really wide to stretch the Red Bulls press. Center backs Phillip Quinton and Steven Moreira drifted close to the sideline in an attempt to create passing lanes inside or find a pass to the wing back. Often to help this, midfielder Aidan Morris played as a half-pivot on Quinton’s side so that left wing back Will Sands could push up the pitch.
If the Crew made it out of the back, the strategy up top surprisingly didn’t change much with forward Cucho Hernandez missing from the lineup. Often Matan or Lucas Zelarayan played as a False 9, attempting to draw the opposing center backs out of position to allow the attacking midfielders or wing backs to make runs in behind.
The problem for the Black & Gold was getting the ball up into those attacking areas. Too often, they tried to play centrally through the Red Bulls, which is the strength of their press. Columbus needed to connect and get the ball to the outside where the players could go one-on-one or go direct down the field.
Perhaps young forward Jacen Russell-Rowe would have been a better option from the start of this game because his bigger frame and natural positioning likely would have been more ideal for holding the ball after the direct passes than Zelarayan or Matan.
The flanks need to be more utilized by the Black & Gold going forward. The Crew had zero crosses in the game and was committed to going through the middle by playing through balls but didn’t adjust when it wasn’t working.
Similar defensive styles. Different offensive results
The Crew and the Red Bulls have somewhat similar styles in the way the teams set up to play in certain parts of the game. For example, both teams like to press high but have different styles of press.
Columbus likes to press when the team loses the ball and try to win it back right away to possess again. New York does the same thing, but with a more aggressive, constant style.
The difference between these teams was what they did when they won the ball back, and the offensive results were vastly different because of this.
Often when the Black & Gold won possession, the ball went back to the center backs and was moved around the backline. The Crew had the ball a lot, 62.2 percent of it, but wasn’t aggressive enough to try and advance the ball to possess in New York’s half rather than their own.
The Red Bulls, on the other hand, looked to advance the ball up the pitch right after winning it. If that wasn’t on, then New York pulled it back. This is type of pressing and counter attacking aggression that put the Black & Gold on the back foot on both goals they conceded.
It is what the Red Bulls have done for years to promising results and Columbus couldn’t handle it despite knowing what was coming or press and push enough themselves. If the Crew had looked to go forward with the ball instead of back, the Black & Gold could have broken the press on multiple occasions. This would put New York under more pressure, and maybe even led to more chances.
Youth and inexperience are beginning to show
Nancy has made it known that he trusts younger players. For the Crew, that means Quinton, Sands and wing back Mohamed Farsi getting significant game time in this early part of the season.
Quinton has had solid moments and other moments of inexperience in the first few games. Sands continues to refine the offensive side of his game, playing a more advanced role than in the past. Farsi has been a bright spot for the Crew, but struggled with his decision making when on the ball against New York.
With that being said, inexperience was on display Saturday night, which is a good and bad thing.
On the first goal, Quinton got caught high up the pitch while his counterpart Moreira was also high, which led to a goal in transition for New York. Both center backs can’t be up the field because then Degenek is left alone. Because Moreira was still tracking back, a runner was unmarked at the back post which led to an easy rebound goal.
On the second goal, Farsi gets caught napping, after giving the ball away, as Red Bull right back John Tolkin ran right behind him and played an uncontested cross to the back post. Quinton didn’t check his shoulder to see ther runner at the back post, which led to an easy second goal for the home side.
These mistakes are to be expected with young players. That being said, there are learning opportunities here for both players involved.