Yep, I’m back which means the Fire defense conceded more goals last weekend. Both clubs were missing players on the backline, but Columbus had their full compliment of attacking players to put the Fire defense to the sword. Let’s see who earned some extra shuttle runs this week.
Limiting Counter Attacks
Chicago lost the possession battle to Columbus this weekend by an alarming 59-41% continuing the distressing trend. Playing loosely aimed long balls to opposing defenders won’t help reverse that trend and leaves the defense susceptible to counterattacking teams that know how to find their danger man quickly in space.
This sequence begins with Jeff Larentowicz attempting to play a long diagonal pass to Dilly Duka. The pass goes directly to Crew leftback Chad Barson and Columbus starts another dangerous attack after already just coming close once and getting caught offside on another less than ten minutes into the game.
As you can see from the screen cap, there are at least six Crew players between Larentowicz and the ball. The attack is so disjointed that when possession is lost, half of the field players are already defeated and the defense are at an immediate numerical disadvantage.
Now we see Barson’s pass to Justin Meram beating five players in an instant. With Duka forward as the intended target, he is in no position to put immediate pressure on Meram meaning someone must leave their position to close the attacker causing the defense to lose shape.
Larentowicz leaves the center of the field open to close down Meram, which is certain death considering that’s Federico “The Lesser” Higuain’s favorite spot to collect the ball, turn, and face goal. This time, though, Higuain is already in the midfield and can take a layoff from Meram in stride with no one to challenge him. Getting out of this situation unscathed looks very unlikely, but some clever positioning from the backline can still seal off passing lanes or at least delay the inevitable.
With Higuain facing goal with the ball at his feet and still no one directly in front of him to challenge, Ethan Finlay starts the run behind the defense. At this moment, Greg Cochrane hesitates as he has a choice: tighten up the backline or track Finlay’s run. It is absolutely critical for Cochrane to retreat facing the middle of the field to cut off the through ball and to hold the offside line.
Larentowicz closes down Higuain but it’s too late. Higuain releases the pass, Finlay has the momentum to beat Cochrane who decides to track Finlay’s run leaving a huge gap between himself and Patrick Ianni. The pass bisects Ianni and Cochrane, though I have to think Ianni could have done something to get a foot on the ball as it went by.
I also have to think Cochrane could have done a little more to put a foot on the ball before it crossed the line. It’s hard to judge reaction time, but Ianni and Cochrane were too close to the final pass and shot to score to not question if a little more effort could have prevented this outcome.
Fans always appreciate when their players wring out one more drop of effort whether it’s on the attack or defending. That one last ditch effort can be the difference between saving and conceding a goal.
Who Wants It More?
The “Who wants it more?” question is an old cliche we’ve all heard at practice since the grade school years, but, as we’ll see here, it really does apply to the big boy games too. We’ve seen Patrick Nyarko win the battle of Who Wants It More many times for us, most recently against New York, so it was difficult to watch when Jairo Arrieta out-worked Ianni in the lead up to Columbus’ second goal.
Of course, even a goal like this still has it’s own technical and tactical breakdown which is what I attempt to illustrate, it’s just that the critical moment where the Arrieta wins out is not from a defender making a wrong decision, missing mark, or a product of a spacing problem; rather, the breakdown culminates in the opponent mustering the effort to overcome the defender.
Still, there is work for Columbus to do to get to that situation and it originates with a heavy touch from Quincy Amarikwa in the box that unluckily bounces right to Hector Jimenez who initiates the counterattack by finding Tony Tchani is space around him.
Tchani traps the ball with Larentowicz the only Fire player around him in a position to challenge. The problem is, Larentowicz has been man marking Higuain throughout the game and must decide whether to close down Tchani or leave him with space to make a pass while tracking Higuain. It’s a split second decision that must be purely instinctual and fully committed or else space will open up for both Crew attackers.
Larentowicz decides to track Higuain, but his attention remains on Tchani while Higuain looks to find space for himself. Steven Kinney also retreats but he focuses his attention on Tchani instead of Higuain also.
Higuain finds the space he wanted while Larentowicz flounders in no-man’s land never legitimately challenging Tchani nor accurately tracking Higuain or passing him off to anyone else. Kinney, still retreating from his attacking position can not immediately challenge Higuain either forcing Ianni to make the same decision Larentowicz had to make: close down the ball (Higuain) or track the run (Arrieta).
Ianni easily put himself in position to recover Higuain’s pass but slowed down as he approached the ball. Arrieta ran through Ianni to win the ball and charged at goal. Not much to discuss here tactically; Ianni made the right decisions and put himself in position to make the defensive play but just didn’t follow through.
This defensive lapse reminds me of Juan Agudelo’s goal from last year when he muscled Larentowicz off the ball to score.
For years the Fire have lacked killer instinct to close out tight games, bury weaker teams through an onslaught of goals, close down crosses, and now make the easy defensive plays. I don’t really know the answer to fixing this problem besides shuttle runs. Lots and lots of shuttle runs. Double for Ianni this week.