The Columbus Crew returns to action on Wednesday night a USL Championship side Indy Eleven makes the short trip over to Lower.com Field for a U.S. Open Cup third-round matchup. The Open Cup features teams from all levels of American professional and amateur soccer competing for a title. Since Columbus plays in MLS, the top division of American soccer, the Black & Gold are not entered into the competition until the third round.
Columbus has a history of success in the Open Cup, including winning the trophy in 2002. However, in recent years the Crew has not had success in the tournament, falling to USL teams twice, including losing on the road last year to Detroit City FC.
The good news for the Black & Gold is that head coach Wilfried Nancy was adamant that the club wants to compete in this competition this year. Nancy also mentioned that he will be “extremely demanding” of his players ahead of Wednesday’s match in maintaining a strong mentality. While he did mention he will rotate the squad to accommodate for this match and the team’s game on Saturday against Inter Miami, Nancy reinforced the opportunity for the team to compete in this cup competition is one they won’t be taking likely.
Let’s take a look at this matchup
Indy Eleven at a Glance:
Record: 1-2-3, 5 points
League Form: L-L-L-D-W
Leading Scorer: Bryam Rebellon, Sebastian Guenzatti, Solomon Asante, Aodhan Quinn (1)
Assist Leader: Soloman Asante, Aodhan Quinni (1)
Player to Watch: Jack Blake
Blake is the engine of this Indy Eleven team. Operating in the central midfield, Blake has a huge impact on every facet of the game for his side. In his first year with Indy Eleven, Blake has been one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the USL Championship for several years now.
Originally from England, Blake turned pro with Nottingham Forest before making his way over to the United States. He has played for several teams in the U.S., including Minnesota United, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Real Monarchs, Jacksonville Armada and the San Diego Loyal.
Blake is an excellent distributor of the ball in possession and is equally adept at winning the ball back for his side. The experienced 28 year old will bring a gritty professionalism to this Indy Eleven side looking to spring an upset.
How Indy Eleven plays:
It’s very hard to predict how an underdog will try to play in a one-off match in a cup competition. However, based off of the team’s league matches so far this season, there are a few things the Crew can expect from the visitors.
First and foremost, Indy Eleven has been a possession-dominant team so far in 2023. In fact, in each of Indy’s six league matches, the team have had the majority of possession. Indy usually plays in a 4-3-3 formation, however, they have changed to a 3-4-3 and 4-4-2 on occasion this year.
Regardless of the team’s shape, Indy Eleven wants to maintain possession of the ball, push the fullbacks up into attack and move the wingers into more central areas. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because the Crew has many similarities in possession.
When out of possession, Indy will likely defend in a mid-block and trigger the press when the ball goes out wide to a Columbus wing back or center back. Indy will also look to counter press and win the ball back immediately upon losing possession.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold should win this match. Playing at home, where they are unbeaten all year, against a team from a lower division makes the Crew heavy favorites in this match. However, these matches aren’t always what they seem in this competition. There are a few things Columbus needs to do well in order to advance to the fourth round of the competition.
Both the Crew and Indy Eleven love to be in possession of the ball. Both sides look to maintain possession in order to control the flow of the game and try and wear down their opponents. Both Indy and the Black & Gold are more uncomfortable without the ball than with it. Thus, the possession battle in this match will be important for both sides. If Columbus is able to keep possession effectively, the team will make Indy Eleven uncomfortable by forcing them to defend for long stretches of the match. In addition, the Crew keeping the ball will make it much harder for Indy to get into a passing rhythm when they do have the ball. If the Black & Gold can maintain the majority of possession, it will allow them to impose their will on Indy Eleven.
In addition to maintaining possession effectively, there are two things that heavy favorites across the competition need to focus on in order to avoid being upset. Scoring the first goal is hugely important in these cup competitions. Not only would scoring the first goal give Columbus the actual advantage of leading in the match, but it would also give a psychological boost over the opponent. In addition, it would force the opponent to change its game plan to try and get back into the game, which Columbus could then exploit.
The Crew also needs to avoid giving up any SPEC goals tonight. SPEC goals are goals conceded from set pieces (SP), errors (E) and counter attacks (C.) If the Black & Gold don’t give up any SPEC goals tonight, they will limit the ways that Indy Eleven can get into the match.
One last thing Columbus will want to avoid as the favorite is give away a cheap goal that allows Indy Eleven to grow into the match. If the Crew can score first and avoid giving up SPEC goals, the team will really like its chances to progress to the next round.