Analysis

Creating chances: Why goals should eventually come for struggling Crew SC

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus remains to produce crosses, but efficiency and finishing are failing the Crew. Paul Tenorio analyzes.

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After his team had failed to find the back of the net against the Chicago Fire in mid-March, Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter offered credit to the home side for their approach to the match.

Chicago bunkered in for much of the game, conceding possession to a team that loves to knock the ball and aiming to do two things: eliminate crosses and defend in the box against Kei Kamara.

“If you watch what Portland did, defending MLS champs, they did the same thing. Philadelphia did the same thing,” Berhalter said. “It’s a decent blueprint. It makes it much tougher on us, we have to be much more precise and we’re lacking that precision right now. So it’s a way to try to keep us off the scoreboard and it was effective.”

Columbus is still trying to figure out how to deal with it, and the biggest concern is its continued inefficiency in front of net. Crew SC is winless in its first five games, four of which have come on the road. They have scored just three goals all season, and only one in the run of play.

An examination of the team’s statistics shows, however, that Columbus isn’t lacking in possession or opportunities.

Columbus held at least 58 percent possession in each of its first three games of the season. It has also created an average of 10.2 chances per game this season. Yet, Crew SC has managed to convert just three of them.

So where does the problem start?

Tactically, Columbus hasn’t done much differently than last season. Crew SC still likes to keep the ball and use short passing in build-up play. The team has significantly out-passed its opponent in every game this season except Montreal, where it held a slimmer advantage.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Federico Higuain pushing higher could be the answer for Columbus. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The key for Crew SC remains on the wings, where Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram like to cut in on diagonal runs and allow the attacking full-backs, Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful, to get forward and create overloads. A team that led MLS in crosses per game last season now sits in fourth place this season with 23; only teams are focused this year on denying those crosses and making the service less efficient and easier to deal with.

Crew SC has just 4 percent accurate crosses this season compared to 7.3 percent last year. The attacking dashboard against Montreal shows just how well teams are defending those services. Columbus connected on just three of 22 crosses in the game. Against Dallas, they managed just 10.

Kamara averaged 0.6 shots per game from inside the six-yard box last year and 2.8 per game in the penalty area. On a much smaller sample size this season, those numbers have dropped to 0.2 shots per game inside the six and 2.4 per game in the penalty area.

Despite the efforts to deny Kamara the type of high-percentage chances in the box he had last season, Columbus will still feel like there has been a bit of bad luck involved in the start to the season. Crew SC has been just a bit off in the final third – one pass not connected, one shot just barely off frame. In nearly every game this season, Columbus has put together a run of possession that ended with a good look at net. Only they haven’t been able to finish the chances.

“It’s just the final touch,” Finlay told MLSSoccer.com.

Kamara has just one goal this season, Finlay has yet to find the back of the net and has just one assist.

The approach may need to be tweaked slightly to break down opponents, perhaps asking Federico Higuain to be more aggressive in the final third, but the statistics show that unless Columbus continues its incredibly high rate of inefficiency, the goals will eventually come.

Columbus hopes the numbers begin to average out on Saturday against NYCFC.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.