Eric Gehrig
USA Today Sports Images

Quick ball movement the catalyst for Crew

Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has been very candid when discussing his club and its chances against teams that "like to play."

In simplified terms, when clubs want to play the same open style that the Black & Gold do, the Crew is typically successful. This season, however, the team has sometimes had difficulty when playing clubs that bunker back and "park the bus," to use a familiar term.

Think back to the home match earlier this season against FC Dallas as a prime example. For roughly 50 minutes Sunday afternoon against Chivas USA, it was a similar story for the Crew until Justin Meram's moment of individual brilliance broke open the Goats and fueled the Crew to another commanding home victory.

"The focus was moving the ball quickly, getting the ball wide and going from there," said Berhalter. "I think that's exactly the goal. We got the ball in a wide position. Waylon [Francis] made a smart choice to give it to Justin there in a shooting position and it's a goal. That's what we're relying on to get it going."

So what was the overall key in the second half from a strategic standpoint?

"It was patience," said Berhalter. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy from watching them. They've been a tough team, save for that Seattle game, to break down in the first half. We knew it would be difficult. We got the PK right before halftime and it was unfortunate that we didn't convert that, but we knew as the game went that they would open up and get tired. I stressed at halftime: patience."

The fact is, when the Crew moves the ball quickly on diagonal lines, it can beat anybody. The club has the possession and passing wherewithal to rack up big numbers when it circulates the ball and creates chances. In the second half on Sunday, that's exactly what happened. The Black & Gold entered the final 45 minutes knowing it had to ramp up the tempo to break down a side that was playing its third match in eight days.

"That's our gameplan," said midfielder Daniel Paladini on moving the ball quickly. "[Berhalter] stresses keeping the ball. In the first half, we weren't as good obviously as in the second half. At halftime, he came in and said to pick up the intensity and move the ball quicker. We did. We knew they were going to break down and get tired, especially with them playing three games in eight days."

In fact, the Crew boss expected Chivas USA to bunker back a little, given its performance on Wednesday against Seattle when the Goats conceded four goals in the first half en route to a 4-2 defeat.

"We watched the first half of the Seattle game," said Berhalter. "It was 4-0 and it could have been 6-0. I knew they were going to change their tactics a little bit. I knew they were going to sit back. On a warm day -- bright and sunny -- those games are difficult sometimes to really get into it and really move the ball quickly, but that was the talk at halftime, 'Guys, we have to start circulating the ball faster.' That's what hurt them."

In the end, the efficient movement and Meram's wonderful curler were exactly what was needed to get the first goal. Often, when you get the first goal against a team that likes to sit back, you can easily open them up and get two or three.

That's exactly what happened for the Black & Gold on this Sunday clash.

"When you move the ball quickly like that, you force them to work," said Eric Gehrig. "The longer they work, the more tired they get. Spaces open up, pockets open up. When you get the guys that are dangerous with the ball in those pockets, they can do some things. Pipa played some good balls in, Justin found some spots, obviously, with a couple of nice goals ... We moved the ball side-to-side, made them work and opened them up, then we capitalized. That was the difference."

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