Crew SC Roundup: Shot Accuracy Issues and Running with the Lions

When the dust settled on Columbus Crew SC’s recent road trip that had them embark on a cross-country traverse encompassing over 5,000 miles, the initial reactions were a combination of relief and elation. The club went unbeaten in the two away matches against Vancouver and New England that took place within 63 hours of each other, drawing both. Their second all-time appearance at BC Place resulted in an entertaining, back-and-forth 2-2 draw while the 64th game played in the history of the Crew SC-Revs rivalry finished scoreless.

Despite the very real possibility of a 1-4 start given the difficulty of the schedule, the Black and Gold find themselves in a much more advantageous position at 1-2-2 with two consecutive weekend home games looming. First up is the inaugural match between Crew SC and league newcomers Orlando City SC, while a week from Saturday the Philadelphia Union will visit MAPFRE Stadium for the first time in 2015.

There is certainly much cause for optimism heading into this two-game home stand. Forward Kei Kamara is tied with nine other players for second in the league with three goals scored. Head coach Gregg Berhalter’s possession-oriented brand of soccer is showing statistically speaking as the club ranks sixth league-wide possessing the ball on average 53 percent per game. That’s only a mere .93 percent lower than the third-ranked Los Angles Galaxy (53.93 percent).

Kamara is also tied for the league lead in total shots (23) with goal-scoring leader Octavio Rivero of Vancouver. The two had a nice duel from an offensive standpoint when Whitecaps FC and Crew SC clashed in British Columbia last Wednesday. Rivero had one of his five goals of the year while Kamara added a brace to his three-goal total.

Crew SC Roundup: Breaking Down Shot Accuracy Woes

As a whole, Crew SC leads the league in total shots per game, averaging 15 each contest. That’s all fine and dandy if a solid portion of those shots are challenging the goalkeeper and forcing him to make a save. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening with regularity through the first five games of 2015.

Despite the high volume of overall shots, the Black and Gold rank second-worst in the league in per game shot accuracy average. Only 24.6 percent of their shots on a match-by-match basis have connected on goal so far. The issue was glaringly evident Saturday afternoon in Gillette Stadium when Crew SC were unable to test Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth with a single shot on goal of their five total.

Of the ten players who’ve scored three goals or more through the first six weeks of action, Kamara ranks ninth in shot accuracy at 39.1 percent. Compare that with Philadelphia’s Fernando Aristiguieta, who similarly has three goals, has attempted only one less shot (22), yet 50 percent of those shots are hitting goal. Rivero’s total percentage of shots finding goal come in at a 56.5 percent clip.

Four Crew SC players have shown up on the score sheet so far in 2015, and right now Ethan Finlay has the highest percentage of shots that have hit the target at 44.4 percent. Federico Higuaín, whose 11 goals was tied for the team lead last season, still has yet to register a shot on goal amongst the eight he has attempted.

The big picture issue I’m trying to get at here is that early on in the season, Crew SC has proven they have the personnel capable of creating chances and producing a high volume of shots. If more of those shots can find the target on a game-in game-out basis going forward, this club will be extremely tough to beat.

Lions and Ricketts and Kaká, Oh My!

Saturday’s game marks the inaugural match between Crew SC and MLS newcomer Orlando City SC. To this point, the Lions appear to have the edge over New York City FC as the better of the two expansion franchises. They currently sit third in the Eastern Conference standings and have to feel good about themselves after a 2-0 road win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

This is going to be a match-up between two technically sound teams that distribute the ball around the field with exceptional proficiency. Orlando City currently leads the league with a passing accuracy per game mark of 81.67 percent. The Black and Gold aren’t too far behind in this metric at 78 percent which is good enough for fourth best league-wide.

Expect this game to be quite entertaining if you’re a fan of that brand of soccer. Seven of the ten players who are among the league’s leaders in connecting on their passes will be playing in this game. For Crew SC, that list includes defender Waylon Francis (95.1 percent, first), and defensive midfielders Mohammed Saeid and Wil Trapp (88.3 percent, sixth; 87.7 percent, ninth respectively). On the other side of the pitch, their midfield quartet of Eric Avila (90.4 percent, second), Darwin Ceren (89.6, fourth), Cristian Higuita (88.1, eighth) and Amobi Okugo (87.7 percent, tenth) round out the list.

The edge in goalkeeping has to go to the Black and Gold. Orlando City SC keeper Donovan Ricketts has been an MLS mainstay for the past seven years, having played for the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and Portland Timbers before arriving in Orlando. Nevertheless, the 37-year-old Jamaican is entering the tail end of his career while Crew SC goalie Steve Clark still has a number of prime years left in him at 29.’s goalkeeping analytics rates Clark as the second best net minder in the league, while Ricketts comes in ranked 15th. Clark contributes phenomenally to Crew SC’s initial third distribution which is why he also rates as the second-best possession-oriented goalkeeper according to Squawka.

Kamara will have a fellow three-goal scorer on the field when OCSC invades MAPFRE Stadium over the weekend. He’s none other than 2002 World Cup winner and 2007 World Player of the Year Kaká. The Brazilian sensation has a hand in virtually all aspects of the Purple and Gold’s chance creation and his artistic wizardry is one of many reasons the club is off to such a good start.

Crew SC head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter knows that regarding Kaká, the old adage “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him” applies.

“I think it’s limiting the damage. You know he’s going to do some good stuff because he’s a great player so it’s trying to limit that. He’s going to get his touches on the ball and, you know, he’s gonna make some good passes so you gotta be aware,” Berhalter said in discussing the Orlando City SC playmaker.

Among the many things the Black and Gold need to be “aware” of is Kaká’s dangerous touch on set pieces. Clark has stated that he likes the way the club is evolving in terms of being able to take away opposing teams’ effectiveness in this aspect of the game, especially after the draw with New England.

“We definitely have taken a step on how we’re defending set pieces and I think it’s important that we continue to do that,” the Crew SC goalkeeper said. “Guys are taking more responsibility than any time last year so I mean I think that’s a good thing.”

It’s not exactly a romantic safari through the Serengeti, but Crew SC fans on hand at MAPFRE Stadium will get their first-hand opportunity to see the Lions in action. The Black and Gold are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference table but a win could see them vault to as high as third if the right things happen elsewhere in the league. Here are three quick keys in closing:

– Effective wing play. If Finlay and Justin Meram can dominate the flanks and consistently service the ball into the box for Kamara, chances at goal will come.

– Win the battle of the wing backs. Both teams love to get their wing defenders to push forward and make overlapping runs. This is kind of a corollary to the first key but an important separate component itself nonetheless.

– Disrupt OCSC’s pass game in that middle/final third boundary. This is the bread and butter of Crew SC’s style of play. If Wil Trapp gets the start (assuming he’s over his concussion symptoms), expect him and Tony Tchani to be that anchor in the defensive midfield. If not, Mohammed Saeid has himself proven a capable option.

This is another crucial game where getting a result will be of paramount importance if the club wants to keep up with the rest of the Eastern Conference and the league as a whole.