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LA v Columbus (1-0) – Beckham’s Bevy of Set Pieces Pays Off Late in the Match

Columbus’ Strategy    Coach Roberto Warchyza employed the exact same 4-5-1 formation on Wednesday night that he used Saturday night in the Crew’s scoreless draw at home against the Earthquake. Gehrig and Ekpo both played centr...

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Columbus’ Strategy
    Coach Roberto Warchyza employed the exact same 4-5-1 formation on Wednesday night that he used Saturday night in the Crew’s scoreless draw at home against the Earthquake. Gehrig and Ekpo both played centrally in the midfield. Gehrig sat deeper than Ekpo especially when the crew moved up the field in attack. Ekpo led many Crew ventures forward from the middle and got off several long-range shots. In defense they both sat side by side in the hole in front if the back line.
    Gaven and Rodgers were out wide. They switched sides often and both drifted inside to receive the ball. They would often even be on the same side of the field when the Crew was trying to break down LA’s defense. Because of this the Crew lacked width at times and it showed in their inability to provide any meaningful service in the air to Heineman.
Heineman came on for the injured Andres Mendoza in the first few minutes and looked to hold up the ball and give the Crew an aerial threat, since he had a size advantage due to the absence of Omar Gonzalez. Anor played in behind Heineman and received passes in all parts of the pitch. His first touch looked quite a bit better than it did Saturday night. One would like to see him be a bit more eager to play balls wide to Gaven and Rodgers especially, but for a young player he shows quite a bit of promise.
LA’s Strategy
    Bruce Arena employed a basic setup, but as always with Donovan and Beckham it was very free flowing with players moving all over the pitch. At left and right fullbacks, Dunivant and Franklin got forward with regularity. Donovan played inside left, especially with possession but he defended out wide left. Juninho played mostly in the hole in front of the back four but got forward on quite a few occasions. This allowed Beckham to drop very deep to set the LA attack in motion. Beckham mostly played in the right center of midfield but drifted out wide right frequently to provide service into the box.
    Kirovsky started playing out wide right but he was also all over the pitch, often drifting inside and even at times all the way over the left center of the middle of the field. Lopez played just a little deeper than Angel who was on the right.
Tactical Observations
         It was no surprise to see Columbus finish without a goal as their leading scorer and designated player Andres Mendoza went off in the opening minutes with a hamstring injury. Gaven and Rodgers are the Crew’s creative players, but it is clear that they miss their true playmaker from the last few years, Guillermo Barros Schelotto. He was the player who provided passes to spring Rodgers and Gaven in space which allowed them to create goal scoring opportunities. Without any real playmaker, the Crew has struggled mightily to fashion chances. Gaven and Rodgers would often be on the same side of the field with possession. This meant Anor, who was playing just behind Heineman, in a similar position to the one Schelotto played last season. The three attacking midfield players would be in such close proximity that they were unable to provide service into Heineman. This let the LA defense off easy as they were able to cover the Crew attack, even when they had a numerical advantage. The Crew needs more off ball movement in order to create more chances. Heineman did not make as many off ball runs as Mendoza would have. Also, it seems that Ekpo is too deep. Especially with Columbus struggling to score his dribbling skills and long range shoting could be very helpful, and one wonders if having him play wide and moving Gaven inside would make the Crew more dangerous.
    LA had the majority of the possession and Beckham took an extravagant amount of corner kicks. They were clearly the more dangerous side. However, their lone goal came in the 70th minute from of a deflected Beckham free kick that Sean Franklin blasted in after a second deflection. The lead was warranted and it seemed like they would eventually find a way to put at least one goal in the entire night. LA did not put much pressure on the ball, which was surprising as it seemed as though it would have helped them shorten the field. Thus, when they finally recovered the ball they often started their attack deep in their own half of the pitch.
     Angel has had a splendid career but for LA to win MLS Cup they are either going to have to get more out of him or they are going to have to find an alternative solution at striker. This was never more evident than in the 30th minute when Donovan put an ankle breaking move on Gehrig and laid off a perfect ball to Angel on the right side of the 18 yard box, and instead of blasting past Hesmer, Angel chipped it wide left. Chad Marshal had recovered and would have easily cleared the chip off the line. This display from Angel showed that he is not confident in front of goal, and the Angel from a few years ago would most likely have buried that chance.
Conclusion:
    It was a deserved 3 points for LA as they were the definitively more dangerous team. With that being said, and in the overall big picture of the race for the MLS Cup, LA was not that impressive and with their current striking duo of Angel and Lopez, they do not appear to have enough firepower to bring home the championship. Beckham provides great service but he needs someone to latch onto his crosses. In this regard, the Galaxy have yet to replace Edson Buddle. With Donovan looking a bit tired, LA is going to need him in form for the stretch run.
    Considering the sum of their parts, Columbus has done well to be near the top of the east. They have a staunch defense but are sorely lacking in creativity, and with Mendoza, their leading scorer likely out for quite some time, goals for the Crew are going to be few and far between. They are still likely to advance to the playoffs because of that reliable defense but anything more than a first round exit would be very surprising.
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