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Crew v. Revolution: An in-depth analysis

What went wrong on Saturday?

MLS: Columbus Crew at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Before their 85th-minute goal, the Crew completed 11 consecutive passes, taking the ball upfield from just outside their own penalty area to the opposite end line. This forced the Revs to concede a corner kick (taken by a very consistent Federico Higuain) that resulted in the game’s only goal.

So these 11 passes played a big part in the Crew goal, and one could say that this display of possession made the goal all the more deserved. I cannot remember the last time the Revs put on a similar passing performance. In this game, it was only from the 55th to the 60th minute that they passed pretty well. Revs’ possession soccer took a back seat, going through long stretches of basic nonexistence.

The missing link for the locals (especially when they play away games on grass) is their general lack of a good possession game, which has been evident not just this game and this season, but ever since they lost Jermaine Jones. Fagundez and Agudelo were missed on Saturday, but neither has the mindset of a Carlos Valderrama or a Bastian Schweinsteiger. For the Crew, Wil Trapp definitely does have that mindset (though he doesn’t reach Valderrama’s and Schweinsteiger’s class). Trapp was nicknamed the “fulcrum” by Brad Feldman and Paul Mariner. No other player on the team did more to establish Crew possession superiority (58% to 42% for the game) than he. He made many passes, mostly short, but with some threatening long ones thrown in to keep the Revs defense off-balance, and very few back passes to his goalkeeper. He appeared totally aware of his surroundings, always seeking out passing possibilities, and generally commanding overall play. I can see why he captained the national team in a friendly several months ago.

Of course, it’s very much to Trapp’s advantage to have Artur and Higuain as midfield partners. The experience and South American savvy they have sets him up in many ways.

Given the Revs’ personnel deficits, compared to this midfield trio, as well as the less-than-ideal playing conditions (rain and artificial turf), I commend Brad Friedel’s tactical response. The Rev game plan evidently stressed the high press, with the goal of forcing turnovers and consequent scoring chances against a team that preferred ball possession. This was the Rev approach, and it worked. The Revs got several good scoring chances and often even forced the Crew to bypass the midfield often by use of the long ball., especially on goal kicks.

Lalas Abubakar, a player who could arguably called man of the match, scored the Crew goal. He was a force throughout the game from the centerback position because of his more-than- adequate running speed and his strong heading ability, enhanced by a great vertical leap. He made one mistake when, in the 81st minute, he made a weird pass to his goalkeeper.

To solidify success, the Revs, like most other professional teams, need to do something about shooting from outside the area. Too many shots are going off target, usually over the goal. The main objective should be to get the ball on target and under the crossbar. Scott Caldwell’s 28th-minute shot over the goal was, in this game, a prime example. The way to hit the target is to put 100% focus on the ball and keep he head down after contact (like a golfer), have the ankle plantar-flexed throughout the swing, and follow through in the intended direction of the ball.

Long shots from outside the area still win games. If executed properly, the technique described above will increase accuracy and power, thereby improving players’ chances for positive results.