Colorado – Columbus Analysis

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 28: Omar Cummings  with the Colorado Rapids makes a move around Brian Carroll  of the Columbus Crew during at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in the first leg of MLS playoffs on October 28, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Nathan W. Armes/Getty Images)

MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals (1st leg)

Colorado Rapids 1 – Columbus Crew 0

The opening match of the 2010 MLS Playoffs may not have been high-scoring, but it did have its fair share of excitement. Colorado and Columbus’ 4-4-2 formations varied enough to allow for some open play, particularly in the first half.

1st half

Colorado controlled the first forty-five minutes by using a 4-4-2 that was remarkably similar to Bob Bradley’s. The two outside midfielders, Brian Mullen and Wells Thompson, made inward runs to clear breathing room for the fullbacks and striker Omar Cummings. The Jamaican forward reveled in the resultant space and terrorized Columbus’ left flank. Quite naturally, one of Cummings’ forays to that area created the lone goal. After Eddie Gaven failed to handle Andy Iro’s pass, the Colorado midfielders shuffled the ball out to Cummings, the striker found counterpart Conor Casey at the near post, and the big man backheeled to a charging Pablo Mastroeni, who took advantage of Bryan Carroll’s lazy marking to notch the winner. Cummings’ movement helped create the goal, but it was Casey’s effervescent touch that sealed the victory. Despite being the larger of the two strikers, Casey was instructed to link with the midfield. His guile meant Colorado could utilize two defensive midfielders yet still control possession.

Columbus (solid circles) and Colorado used slightly different 4-4-2 formations

In contrast, Columbus had two creative focal points in the middle of the pitch, Gaven and Guillermo Schelotto. Like Colorado, they used a 4-4-2, though Gaven and Schelotto’s positioning often shifted the formation to a 4-4-1-1 with a diamond midfield. Schelotto was involved in most of Columbus’ build-up, ineffective though it may have been, but Gaven may as well have not been on the field. Whenever he received the ball, he was stymied by either Jeff Larentowicz or Mastroeni. Gaven’s lack of influence doomed Columbus to try and find space on the wings. But with Colorado more clinical along the touchline, Columbus was repeatedly made to pay for trying to stretch the game. Despite Colorado’s superiority, their failure to convert a number of half-chances would lead to some dicey moments in the second half.

2nd Half

Neither coach changed their formation to start the second period, but manager Robert Warzycha did rearrange his personnel. Emmanuel Ekpo moved into the middle, Robbie Rogers switched out to the right flank, and Gaven took up left midfield. Columbus also eventually replaced Schelotto, Lenhart, and Carroll with Andres Mendoza, Jason Garey, and Kevin Burns. The squad’s shape remained largely the same, though Ekpo played deeper than Gaven had in the first half. However, none of the changes had much of an impact on the match.

Colorado’s first switch, on the other hand, almost changed the course of the match. Unfortunately for manager Gary Smith, his first substitution – striker Macoumba Kandji for midfielder Thompson – was a positive influence for Columbus. Kandji only played fifteen minutes, but his lackluster defensive effort came close to gifting his opponents an equalizer. He twice conceded free kicks in dangerous areas and his failure to mark Iro off a corner gave the defender a free header. Had Iro not sent his shot straight at goalkeeper Pickens, Kandji would have been solely responsible for the tying goal.

Columbus’ Left Flank Vulnerable

As it stood, Colorado’s first half superiority was enough to ensure the win, but with only a one goal lead (MLS doesn’t use aggregate score) they won’t be able to afford another second half collapse, ie they might not want to play Kandji in the second leg.

Fortunately for their supporters, Columbus’ vulnerable left flank is in dire straights. Outside midfielders Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven provided little help to beleaguered defenders Iro and Shaun Francis, allowing Cummings to run rampant. Unless Warzycha finds a way to shore up their defense on that side of the field, Colorado is likely to move on.

The second leg takes place next Saturday, November 6th.

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