Columbus Crew SC Finishing Woes Highlight Rough Start to 2017

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Soccer, like pretty much every team sport in the world, revolves around one thing: trying to outscore your opponent. That fact tends to get lost nowadays with the increasing inclination to analyze every possible data point imaginable. And even within such an analytical framework, the objective remains the same.

How can team A put together the requisite conditions to score more goals than team B when the two sides clash on the pitch?

For Columbus Crew SC, it’s a question that requires a great deal of pondering early into 2017. The club currently finds itself with just one point through two matches. After a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire at home to open the season, the Black and Gold traveled to Houston where they fell in disappointing 3-1 fashion.

Columbus Crew SC Finishing Woes Highlight Rough Start to 2017

A variety of factors reared their ugly heads in both games. Against Chicago, they resulted in Crew SC missing an opportunity to garner the full three points. A week later on the road, they came together to preclude the possibility of even a draw.

Certainly conceding four goals through two games is a concern. With the specter of last year’s defensive woes still an unpleasant memory, that’s not much of a surprise. But the Crew SC finishing woes need more urgent fixing if the club is to reverse an early season rough patch.

Chances and Shots Galore, For What It’s Worth

Columbus’ finishing issues aren’t related to a dearth of service or lack of action around goal. Quite the contrary, actually. The Black and Gold are currently fourth in Major League Soccer with 19 chances created. They’ve also registered 12 shots per game which ranks top ten in the league.

The underlying problem comes down to converting said chances and shots. Inability to do so is directly connected to the stark reality that the club currently sits on one point when they could easily have four. The following two charts paint a fairly glaring picture in that regard.

The first chart measures percentage of key passes (a.k.a. chances created) resulting in a goal. Chart number two takes a look at shot conversion percentage.

Of the 18 teams with a goal on the season, only one is converting chances at a lower rate than Crew SC. And just two are realizing a lower output when it comes to shots resulting in a score. That trend needs to change if the club wants to realize its goal of returning to the postseason in 2017.

Goalkeeping Heroics From the Opposition Hasn’t Helped

While it’s true that finishing is a major issue for Crew SC early in the season, another factor out of the club’s control is worth discussing. The two opposition goalkeepers turned in impressive performances in both games. In particular, both made huge saves at differing points in the games that helped their respective team preserve results.

In week one, Chicago’s Jorge Rodrigo Bava denied Crew SC’s Justin Meram at point blank range in the third minute. Painfully obvious as it is now, that save (in GIF form below) turned out to be the difference between a win and a draw in the final analysis.

Yes, you can argue that Meram missed a sitter. And not scoring there epitomizes the above premise vis-a-vis not converting chances and shots. But give Bava some credit. He made himself big like all goalkeepers are taught to do and displayed reaction time reminiscent of Agent Smith from “The Matrix.”

A week later at a rainy BBVA Compass Stadium, Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric frustrated Crew SC from a goal-scoring standpoint on multiple occasions. It included this leaping denial of a potential goal off a header by center back Jonathan Mensah in the 28th minute.

Not more than a handful of seconds earlier, Deric saved a Federico Higuain shot which came as a result of some effective build-up play from Columbus. So in the span of less than a minute, his exploits prevented a Houston lead from becoming a 2-1 deficit. Considering the game ended 3-1 Dynamo, that Ola Kamara stoppage time goal could’ve salvaged a road point for Crew SC.

What Does It All Mean?

It’s pretty evident from all this that Columbus is creating opportunities. Even the deeper analytics lend credence to the notion. Per American Soccer Analysis, Crew SC’s expected goals for comes in at 3.38 which means they’re underperforming that number by 1.38. Only five teams in the league have a higher negative discrepancy between goals and expected goals.

The issue remains turning the best of these chances into actual scores instead of them going down as missed opportunities. Doing so will certainly help the club return to winning ways. How might this be done within the identity manager Gregg Berhalter wants this club to exhibit?

Quicker build-up play will help. The modus operandi of most teams who face Crew SC is to sit deep, absorb pressure and attempt to choke away the space around goal. An effective way to counteract this tactic is to cycle the ball quickly into the attack before the opposition can set up shop in their defensive third.

Another potential panacea is creating chances closer to goal. Of Crew SC’s 19 key passes thus far, just one originated from inside the box. Considering the way Kamara operates as more of a center forward who runs the channels, getting him service in more advantageous positions will be paramount.

As Columbus Crew SC looks to reverse a slow start to the season on Saturday at D.C. United, perhaps the biggest thing which needs to improve is the finishing quality. The club’s front four boasts players (Kamara, Meram, Higuain and Ethan Finlay) whose reputation as dynamic attackers precedes them.

If they can live up to that reputation and rediscover their finishing touch as a team, the Black and Gold will contend in 2017.

Crew SC News and Notes

  • Saturday’s game marks the 65th all-time meeting between Crew SC and D.C. United.
  • Crew SC is 26-27-11 in the history of the series, but 9-20-4 on the road.
  • This weekend’s matchup will be the final one between these two MLS originals at RFK Stadium as D.C. moves into Audi Field starting in 2018.
  • Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen is questionable with a shoulder sprain sustained last week against Houston.
  • Midfielder Dilly Duka is listed as out to a right calf contusion.
  • Center back Jonathan Mensah will not play due to suspension after getting sent off in the 87th minute against the Dynamo.

Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Communications

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