Even before FC Cincinnati went down to 10 men, Columbus Crew SC quickly established the tone during yesterday’s preseason finale and showed, as of now, the best representation of what head coach Caleb Porter expects from the team.
“When I look at the 11v11, the start of the game, the way that we played, how aggressive we played, the two goals we scored, the way that we counter pressed; it was the closest to the vision that I have for this team thus far,” Porter said.
There’s still a long way to go, Porter admitted, but to him, the foundation in his system comes down to, as obvious as it sounds, having the ball, with the wrinkle being about purposeful possession and the willingness to take chances.
“I think it was a combination of that back half buildup that they are so good at and now the front half control and dominance and counter pressure, with a purpose though,” Porter said on the reason for the Crew’s success last night. “You saw it wasn’t just passing the ball around. It was passing it around to create a chance and I thought both of the first two goals were team goals, and obviously, the third goal was just as good.”
With more possession comes more opportunities for creativity, and ultimately, more chances for goals.
“It’s great to see players play with confidence and freedom,” Porter said. “You can drop all these little patterns of play and move magnets all you want, but at the end of the day the players on the field have to see those things and they have to create for themselves and have to play with a sense of creativity.”
Key to possession was hunger for the ball, and not just from the midfield on back.
“I was most impressed with the counter pressure,” Porter said. “I thought our ability to swarm their team and get 11 yellow jerseys around the ball, I thought that was the most impressive thing because we need the ball, we are a team that needs the ball.
“Again, when the ball turned over, I thought [we] were hungry to get the ball back because the ball for us is like food – we need it. If we’re not gonna have the ball, we’re not gonna be a good team. We have to have the ball,” Porter said.
For FCC, which played with a five-man backline, the red card forced them to shift gears and solely focus to the defensive end. For Crew SC, the mindset remained the same.
“Whether they have 10 or 11 players, we are still going to be on the ball,” Porter said. “In some ways maybe it slowed us down, and I think maybe in some ways it helped them because they had to buckle down now and just defend, but for us nothing changed, and if it was 11v11, nothing would have changed. We would’ve kept the ball, we would’ve looked to create chances.”
Regardless, the counter pressuring became self-fulfilling by midway through the second half, creating spells of attack-minded possession for the Black & Gold, followed by pressure if the ball was lost and then, ultimately, indecision from the other side.
“You saw at the start of the second half, we wanted to get the third goal; we got it right away and then we shut the game down and passed the game out,” Porter said, “and obviously at the end when they were kicking the ball away it shows how dominate we were because you almost create this cycle of soccer where you have it and you press it and there’s nothing they can do but just boot it.”
Albeit preseason, there have been constructive elements to take from. For Porter and the staff, in the grand scheme, success will come down to having the ball – or rather – not allowing the opponent to have the ball, as simple as it sounds.
“We can never lose sight of the fact that we have to have the ball. We are only good if we have the ball, and hopefully, we can have the ball most of the game like today. The only way we are going to have the ball is defend well and defend as a team and be bought into the counter pressing.”
Ultimately, it is just a start and nothing result-wise has been accomplished, Porter stated, so for now, the only thing that matters is the match on March 2 at MAPFRE Stadium
“But preseason’s done now, we are still 0-0, we don’t have a point yet, and we’ve not played a game, so nothing matters now except the next game and the Red Bulls and we are well aware of that,” Porter said. “So we’ll put this behind us and we won’t take anything for granted going into this next week because we have a tough game and we need to be just as good as we were today in that game.”
Kickoff on March 2 is slated for 4:30 p.m. ET.