I'll probably forget the Columbus Crew's 1-1 draw vs. the New York Red Bulls sometime in the next couple of months. But I will always remember this:
There are several types of confidence for goalscorers. Here are the most common:
• "I'm going 1-v-1, because I got this"
• "I'm gonna make the right play, because I don't have to be the star"
• "I'm gonna shave a couple of slices of pizza into my head"
Dom Oduro has that third, special type of confidence. That's the type of think I'll remember forever.
Here are a few thoughts from the game:
1. New York looked like a team playing its third game in 11 days
I usually don't put a lot of stock in teams claiming fatigue from a schedule like that, since three in 11 isn't really that big a deal for professional athletes. But New York are old, and so am I, so I'm not without sympathy. Empathy, even.
Thierry Henry, for one, can't string together back-to-back dominant games on short rest like he used to. That's a problem. Péguy Luyindula was the other starter who was suffering out there, managing to be a half-step slow off the ball most of the night. Those two guys are crucial to New York's chance creation, obviously, but even more so to establishing rhythm and tempo for a team that badly needs it to be dangerous going forward.
Both Henry and Luyindula were outstanding against Houston on Wednesday in New York's 4-0 annihilation of the Dynamo. Both lacked sharpness and energy against the Crew.
Crucially, though, both still found ways to be net positives. For Luyindula, it's his relative gravity – he's so patient and strong on the ball, looking for contact in a way that most central midfielders don't, that he draws defenders to him even when he's spraying his passes a bit. Those lanes can be put to good use by his teammates, which we saw on the build-up to New York's only goal.
We also saw it here:
That is a simple, unselfish drop-off from Luyindula to start the sequence. He held the ball long enough to draw both Tony Tchani and Federico Higuaín to him, and that opened up just enough space for Dax McCarty's delicious third-line pass to Henry along the flank.
Drifting off the front line is Henry's default move to find the game when he's struggling on one level or another. But crucially, he still executes the center forward fundamentals when his positioning and the rate of build-up calls for it.
He was perfect on New York's goal, busting down the middle and taking two Crew defenders with him:
One of my favorite rules of thumb for watching players – and I don't remember where I first heard it, but it was years ago – is, "Watch a player, and see how good they are on the ball. That's how good they are on the day. Watch a player, and see how good they are off the ball. That's how good they are."
That's "I'm gonna make the right play" confidence, and that's how good Henry is. He could contribute til he's 40, dominant or not.
2. Columbus vary the starting position of their wide midfielders
I've focused a bunch throughout the year on the new-look Crew, featuring two main things: How Higuaín is functioning more as a central midfielder than a playmaking forward, and how both fullbacks – Josh Williams on the right and Waylon Francis on the left – push way up into the attack. I've sprinkled in a little bit of "hey, Wil Trapp is really good!" as well.
The other guys deserve a bit of love, too. Hector Jimenez in particular has flourished in Columbus, understanding the spacing demands of playing next to Higuaín immediately.
What he's best at is tucking inside during possession, but flaring wide in attack. The play leading to the penalty is a great example:
Notice that while Jimenez is pinching in and flaring, Justin Meram is starting wide then crashing, which allows him to get inside of Kosuke Kimura and draw the penalty. This is pretty nearly a perfect facsimile of how Bernardo Añor (who missed this one for his red card last week) has been playing week after week.
And if it looks familiar, it should: This is how Sporting KC's wingers play in attack. Peter Vermes has his wide men stay higher than what Gregg Berhalter asks of his flanks so far, but the similarities are nonetheless myriad.
Nobody should call what Columbus play a 4-3-3, since it works on different defensive principles. But it can be a 4-3-3 in attack when it needs to be. That's a good amount of flexibility, and reason to think they'll pull themselves out of this rut they've hit.
3. Greed is not always good
Forwards are supposed to be greedy, to an extent. The Crew, however, are having an issue right now with both Oduro and Jairo Arrieta, neither of whom has been productive from the run of play or effective in possession. There have been far too many of these plays:
Arrieta needs to release that early and put Meram in 1-v-1 on Luis Robles. That's the difference between an "I got this" forward and an "I'm gonna make the right play" forward.
Oduro had several such moments last time out for the Crew, and while I can't say they're costing the team points, I can say that they're costing the team chances. And since nobody on the Columbus roster is a sniper, they need to create as many good chances as possible.
This team does a lot of things as well as anybody in the league – clever ball movement, positional switching, and decoy shows through midfield to get defenders off of Higuaín's back. But they are currently a dollar short up top. That's an issue they'll need to address if they're going to really compete for silverware for this first time in half a decade.