Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Crew Trying to Right the Playoff Ship

It only took ten or so games this year for anyone tuned into MLS to realize that Columbus was a playoff team. After the 2014 New England playoff disaster a year ago I'm not sure what I expected from the local team a year ago.

Here we are, though. Halfway through the 2015 two-legged eastern conference semifinals. Crew SC down a goal after an away matchup with a strong, Drogba infused Montreal Impact.

Columbus wasn't just facing a good opponent last Sunday. With most of the players from last year back, they were also trying to wash away the sharp sting of last year's failure.

Both teams played their game, for the most part. Crew controlled the ball well enough while the Impact defended well and were able to get off quick breaks and counters. No surprises. The difference maker was that Montreal did what they do well much better than Columbus. They also proved, once again, that bottling up Ethan Finlay first leads to an ineffective Kei Kamara.

Earlier this year I dug into Opta data and discovered that the Crew average more crosses into the box than any other team in the 14 tracked leagues by WhoScored. Most (if not all) of that, comes from the overlapping wing backs and Finlay. All of them crosses to essentially one person - Kamara.

Laurent Ciman (photo credit: ©BELGA)
This isn't to say that Columbus can't play a different style. They can. They absolutely can (see the 5-0 demolition of DC United in round 34). If they want to be a team that can win the MLS Cup they will have to learn to play with Kamara the way they do without (if that makes sense). Pumping the ball in on crosses might put you atop a number of simple offensive categories against normal MLS talent all year, but it will get you nowhere against experienced defenders like Marco Donadel, Víctor Cabrera and Laurent Ciman.

Even still, Columbus Crew SC were able this year to hang with a team like Montreal in the playoffs - at their place. Reminder that this is a team that worked their way to the CONCACAF Champions League Final. Crew SC are not out of the woods yet, of course. This story could take a turn for the worst yet still. There is a real fear there, considering the Impact's roster make-up of intelligent and experienced players.

It'll be interesting to see how Gregg Berhalter approaches this weekend's game. Based on what we've seen the past two years it's safe to say it'll be the same as all year. Is that enough to go +1 on Montreal this Sunday?

The story of the 2015 season has been waiting this moment for Crew SC. Berhalter has proven he can create a winner (and winners) during the regular season. MLS Cup is a wacky place, but it's still the time on the domestic league calendar where games are games.

This weekend is the place he can prove he can do it when it matters.

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