2018 Columbus Crew SC season preview

There are lots of stories around Columbus Crew SC, but here's the one I'm focused on: They're an offensively-inclined team who just traded their two best goalscorers this offseason. Justin Meram was sent out for a king's ransom of GAM and TAM, while Ola Kamara was sent out for Gyasi Zardes and an, I don't know, like an earl's ransom of GAM and TAM.

Point is they stocked up on money. And now there is only one guy on the field in 2018 who regularly put the ball in the net waaaaay back in 2017:

Federico Higuain was meh in 2016 and productive but not particularly influential during the first half of 2017. But somewhere around June he discovered the fountain of youth, got his groove back and began controlling games again. When Higuain is at his best he's not just out there creating chances. Rather, he dominates space – his movement off the ball and vision with it rearranges opposing midfields and backlines, and that in turn creates gaps that the Crew SC wingers, forwards and even fullbacks often exploit.

In the process Higuain gets some goals (nine last year, to go with 14 assists), and truth be told he'll probably need to produce more than that with Meram and Kamara gone. But to tell a little bit more truth... maybe not?

Crew SC under Gregg Berhalter are perhaps the league's most prominent "system" team, and their system is designed to do one thing: Generate great scoring chances. The primary beneficiary of those scoring chances tends to be the center forward, which in 2018 will be Zardes.

Snicker if you want. Zardes has had three straight bad finishing years, to the point that he was actually used as a right back for chunks of last season. You don't do that to a guy you think will score.

But he had six goals in five preseason games and generally looked like his 2014 self. That's 'cause Crew SC looked like... well, they looked like they always do:

Watch the timing of Zardes's runs not on their own, but in relation to the wingers around him and the fullbacks out wide. What Columbus do so well is create staggered runs to clear out defenders, and that allows the center forward to get into gaps where it really only takes one move away from the ball to shake a center back.

The system works, and works, and works, and works. The personnel may have changed, but don't bet against it in 2018.