Massive Scouting: Loudoun United FC – U.S. Open Cup

After being off last weekend, the Columbus Crew is set to return to action this Wednesday in Leesburg, Virginia to face USL Championship side Loudoun United FC in the US Open Cup Round of 32. The Crew beat Indy Eleven, another USL Championship team, on April 26 to progress to this stage of the competition.

This matchup represents a unique challenge for the Black & Gold as they travel to a lower division side and prepare for three matches in a week and four matches in just 10 days. Thus Columbus is likely to rotate the squad in order to keep players fresh.

Regardless of who is on the pitch, this is a match the Crew should win. Here’s what you can expect from this matchup and how the Black & Gold can ensure their advancement to the Round of 16. 

Loudoun United at a Glance:

Record: 3-1-4, 10 points

League Form: L, L, W, W ,W

Leading Scorer: Zachary Ryan (5)

Assist Leader: Kalil ElMedkhar, Koa Santos, Zach Ryan (2)

Player to Watch: Zach Ryan

The 24-year-old Ryan has excelled in his first season for Loudoun United. Ryan has played in six matches and has contributed five goals and two assists.

Ryan, who joined United from New York Red Bulls II this past offseason, is experiencing a revival in Virginia and has already begun to catch the eyes of MLS scouts across the country. The forward has the ability to both run in behind the opponent’s backline as well as drop into the midfield and combine with his back to goal. This makes Ryan the ideal profile for a striker in a 4-4-2 formation and thus a great fit for Loudoun’s system.

An excellent finisher, Ryan is able to wear down the opponent with his constant movement and physicality. Columbus’ backline will need to be well aware of Ryan’s whereabouts on Wednesday in order to keep him at bay.

How Loudoun United plays: 

Loudoun United has shown a unique playing style under head coach Ryan Martin. Martin, who is originally from Columbus and who is the son of Ohio Wesleyan Hall of Fame coach Jay Martin, has developed a set playing style and shape. While it’s hard to predict any underdog’s tactical setup in these Open Cup matches, due to the complexity of the system, it’s unlikely that Martin and Loudoun will make too many changes.

United has seemingly settled on playing out of a 4-4-2 formation recently, doing so in each of the team’s last four matches. When out of possession, Loudoun stay in this 4-4-2 shape to try to win the ball back. At times this season, Loudoun has pressed opponents high up the pitch in order to try and force errors and win the ball back.

It will be interesting to see if Martin instructs his team to press in this way on Wednesday night against Columbus. The Crew has established that the team will try and play through a high press and will try and avoid playing the ball long and direct under pressure. Oftentimes, lower division sides may look to defend deeper and stay compact defensively, so keep an eye on Martin’s tactics. 

When in possession, Loudoun will take up a similar shape to the Black & Gold. United is typically in either a 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1 formation when in possession. Loudoun will keep the team’s outside backs wide and will always keep a striker high up the field in possession. The wingers and central midfielders have the ability to roam around and find spaces to receive the ball in and create overloads. Similar to Columbus, Loudoun looks to play big passes to switch the ball from side to side and exploit the space created on the far side. The home side will also play direct whenever possible in attacking transition.

How the Crew can win:

Due to Loudoun’s similarities in possession, the Crew needing to rotate and the game being played in Virginia, this match is a much bigger test than in the last round of the Open Cup. The Black & Gold will have to do several things well in order to win the match, inclduing start strong, finish the tea’s chances and handle the Loudoun high press.

Wednesday will mark the first time that United has welcomed an MLS opponent to its stadium in any competition. This, coupled with the fact that it is a one-off cup tie, will likely make for a raucous atmosphere. The Black & Gold will need to handle this intensity all night, but especially in the first 15-20 minutes of the game. Columbus will want to settle the game down by controlling the ball, flow and tempo and not giving anything cheap to Loudoun. In doing so, the Crew can take the fans out of the match and be able to get into a groove in the match. If not, the game will become harder to control and thus harder to win as the game wears on. 

Any Black & Gold fans who watched the last Open Cup match will know how important it is for Columbus to finish opportunities in this game. The Crew had several golden chances to take the early lead against Indy a few weeks ago and was unable to convert. The Black & Gold will have chances to score again Wednesday night and they need to do a much better job converting these chances when they come. If Columbus is ruthless in front of goal, the Crew will likely be able to take and keep control of this match from start to finish. 

Lastly, if and when Loudoun does high press, the Black & Gold need to do a good job of handling it. Columbus can’t afford to give away cheap opportunities through giveaways at the back in this match. Even little things like errant turnovers out of bounds or misplaced passes that result in turnovers are vital in these types of matches.

If the Crew can handle and play through the Loudoun pressure, the visitors will have a lot of success in the Open Cup.

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