Crew defense takes new attacking role in latest win
In the course of just a month, Josh Williams went from an unused reserve to a capable replacement at center back to becoming one of the Columbus Crew’s best offensive threats.
He had a goal off corner kick disallowed because of a foul against Houston, and missed a bicycle kick by inches in the same match. He also had two attempts cleared off the goal line the following week at Portland and in the last match almost scored on FC Dallas.
“As far as I’m concerned I’m as much a part of the attack as the other guys,” he said.
The irony in his statement is he was the only one of the four defenders who did not pick up either a goal or an assist in the Crew's recent 2-1 win over Dallas.
“He’s had the most looks of any of us,” defensive partner Eric Gehrig said. “Knowing Josh, he’s going to find a way to score.”
For a Crew side that has struggled all season to find the net, the production from the back line has been a welcome addition.
Gehrig’s steal and pass set up Justin Meram for the tying goal vs. FCD for his first career assist.
“It comes from us pressuring,” Williams said. “The guys are looking to step up and then a little flick away can turn into offense like it did with Eric and Justin.”
Right back Sebastian Miranda then got his first Crew goal in his second season with the club by heading a corner kick from left back Nemanja Vukovic to give the Crew the win over Dallas.
“With the service we’re getting and some of the free kicks we came up with, I want defenders to score,” coach Robert Warzycha said.
Of the Crew’s eight goals, two have been by defenders (the injured Chad Marshall has the other), and the group has four of six assists, led by Vukovic’s two and the single points from Gehrig and Shaun Francis.
Last season Josh Gardner, now with Montreal, led the defense with two goals while Miranda had a group-high three assists.
The addition of Vukovic earlier this season gives the Crew two veteran outside backs who are smart about making overlapping runs.
“We really focus on Nemanja getting forward and Seba [Miranda] getting forward and try to incorporate that into the attack,” Williams said.
When those two do go up field, Williams and Gehrig have to be wary of counterattacks.
“It forces us to be extra careful with the ball, especially when they get high but when they get forward good things happen for us,” Gehrig said.
Warzycha encourages Miranda and Vukovic to pick their spots, especially in away matches where the Crew tends to go conservative. They’ll test that theory Saturday at San Jose (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) and Wednesday at Seattle FC.
“Mainly you want them to be in the right spot and you want them to make a difference,” Warzycha said.
Gehrig said that’s the mentality of all the defenders: “If we can jump start the offense, why not?”