The Columbus Crew are one of those teams raising eyebrows thus far into the year. Going into the Saturday night match up with New York City FC, they sit dead last in the East, winless, and with the fewest goals scored of any other team (3). It’s a poor position to be in (obviously), but coach Gregg Berhalter is not hitting the panic button.
After all, this is pretty much the same team that went all the way to the MLS Cup final last year. The two key ingredients of Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain are still right where they have always been.
Even the horrible shot accuracy that they began the year with has started to balance out, as they now fire 34% of their shots on target. Still not a good number by any means, but better than earlier in the year, when that percentage dropped into the teens.
Kamara has just one goal on the year and Higuain has just a goal and an assist. These are the two biggest producers for Columbus, as they have launched thirty shots on goal per game.
But that may be part of then problem.
Examining the statistics, we see a potential issue with this Columbus Crew attack. It is predominantly central. 75% of Columbus’ shots come from the middle of the pitch – only the Red Bulls can match that mark. Similarly, 29% of their attack comes straight down the oppositions throat – only Portland can match that. All of these teams have one thing in common – let down.
One of the key players on this Columbus team was supposed to be Ethan Finlay. The United States international is supposed to be growing into some serious potential while playing right midfield for the Crew. However, he has been one of the Crew’s worst performers this year. Not to mention the fact that his side of the pitch is the side least likely to lead the attack, as the Crew fade to the left more often.
Finlay has not been having a good year. He loses possession over four times a game and has only mustered eight shots.
Perhaps part of the problem comes with not getting involved. In the Crew’s last two games, Finlay has averaged the fewest touches per minute of any other Crew player.
There is a lot riding on Finlay to come around, just like there is a lot riding on Jordan Morris in Seattle. Finlay is supposed to provide the width that spreads the defense apart, but so far he has been unable to accomplish that task. He proved last year that he could and that now has to be seen as a major key to their success, as they have been unable to replicate it without Finlay’s wide contributions this year.
Width is a big part of every team’s game. If you want proof, look at the three teams that attack the least through the middle: FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy. Those are three of the best attacks and most successful teams in MLS thus far into the season. Meanwhile, the top four teams that attack primarily through the middle are the Crew, the Timbers, the Sounders and the Red Bulls. The four worst teams in MLS, yet four of the best historically.
It’s not a coincidence. If Finlay can make wide angles more relevant for the Crew again, defenses will have to give them some of their attention. Then all they have to do is find the big dogs in the center of the pitch.