That trend looks to be continuing in 2017. After an opening with a draw against Chicago Fire last week in a game that they mostly dominated, Crew SC came into this week’s game against the Houston Dynamo with the same gameplan they’ve had since Gregg Berhalter took over prior to the 2014 season: Possess the ball and play through the flanks.
That gameplan failed against Wilmer Cabrera’s team as the Dynamo rolled over Columbus, 3-1, at BBVA Compass Stadium. Crew SC’s goal came in garbage time as Ola Kamara slotted away a nice Justin Meram cross.
For the second straight week, Crew SC took nine shots from inside the box – a figure that is tied for the fourth-most in a game this season thus far – but were only able to put one away. Their expected goals output, provided by Opta, of 2.18 on the night was significantly higher than that of the Dynamo's (1.02).
The lack of goalscoring isn’t because they lack in talent as Kamara, Meram, Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain have all been Best XI-caliber at some point in their MLS careers, but opponents simply know what they are going to do.
Meram is one of the most technical wingers in MLS, able to put balls into dangerous spots on a dime. Finlay is one of the fastest players in the league, and made a deft run in the box to score Crew SC’s only goal against the Fire. He also created four chances against the Dynamo. Kamara has shown good movement in the box and a deft touch when finishing, as evidenced by his 17 goals last season.
Of the four, Higuain could be the player Berhalter looks to make a change with. The 32-year-old has lost a step or two and his chance-creating abilities appear to have taken a hit.
We are just two games into the 2017 season, too small of a sample size to make any grand proclamations, but Higuain has created just two total chances.
The frustration among Crew SC’s attackers was plain to see on multiple occasions on Saturday night.
Things aren't going well in Crew SC land v1. pic.twitter.com/Y8WEFUo13I— Ben Baer (@BenBaer89) March 12, 2017
Things aren't going well in Crew SC land v2. pic.twitter.com/gJjcmqwQQv— Ben Baer (@BenBaer89) March 12, 2017
Meram has shown the ability to be a chance creator as evidenced by his two assists so far this season, and has played as a No. 10 for the Iraqi national team in the past. If Berhalter were to push him into the middle, it could give opponents a different look. Dilly Duka (when healthy), Niko Hansen, Hector Jimenez and Cristian Martinez all rank as possible solutions on the wing.
Of course it’s also true that Columbus are creating the requisite chances to win games and luck or finishing could swing their way. But if that doesn’t happen, Crew SC could see their season go wayward, just as it did in 2016.