The Columbus Crew have a goalscoring problem.
Only three teams in the Eastern Conference – Inter Miami, Charlotte FC, and the Chicago Fire – have found the net fewer than their 15 times. The 2020 MLS Cup champions have failed to score in six of their last eight MLS matches, taking just five points from a possible 24 during that time.
But the cold, hard statistics don’t tell the full story. Columbus currently sit sixth in the East when it comes to Expected Goals with 18.3. Their non-penalty xG per 90 minutes (1.57) is bettered by only four teams throughout the whole of Major League Soccer, and they’re averaging an impressive 13.83 shots per 90 minutes.
The Crew travel to Atlanta United this weekend, following a 2-0 loss at home to LAFC last time out. And in the wake of criticism over his team’s attacking play, head coach Caleb Porter has been keen to point out Columbus are doing the right things.
“At the end of the day, I love my guys. But my job is to put them in good positions to score goals. We’re doing that,” he said. “I feel like we’re doing all the right things to score goals. That’s just not me saying it, it’s the facts.”
He added: “For me, I’m not frustrated with that. It’s hard sometimes to not get frustrated because you know you’re doing all the right things. Whether the people want to hear it or not, I’m going to tell the facts. Bottom line is, I’m not happy that we’re getting in those spots and not scoring. Neither is the team. But I go back to process. And at the end of the day, we’ve got to clean up the final third.”
Perhaps what the Crew lack is a clinical goalscorer. NYCFC have Taty Castellanos, the New England Revolution have Adam Buksa, and Jesus Ferreira has emerged as a supreme attacking force for FC Dallas.
Only recently, Columbus allowed USMNT striker Gyasi Zardes to depart for the Colorado Rapids, most often using Miguel Berry as a center-forward. But Berry has scored just two goals in 13 appearances so far this season, with the Crew’s top scorer currently Lucas Zelarayan on four – a man signed primarily to create for others.
“Sometimes I think people want this, like, magic coaching trick … It’s like getting on the 1-yard line, and we’re fumbling on the 1-yard line every time, and we have to get that right,” Porter said.
“But some guys become (LAFC forward) Carlos Vela and some guys don’t. I don’t think people get that. Some guys become a Tom Brady, and some guys don’t. Some guys become a (NYCFC forward Valentín) Castellanos and some guys don’t. At the end of the day, we’re trying to develop some guys into one of those guys.”
Porter then reiterated his point that although he can work through tactics until the sun goes down and leave his side in the strongest possible state in terms of preparation, he cannot tell his players how to put the ball in the net. They’re the experts on that front.
“(If) anybody questions they weren’t ready to play (vs LAFC), you don’t know what you’re talking about. My group was ready to play — not only just ready to play, but we dominated the first 57 minutes of the game. That’s the reality,” he said. “I’d say we got it right. The mentality was right, the hunger was right, the motivation was right. That’s my job. The tactics, the game plan, that’s my job.
“I can’t finish from eight yards out. I can’t finish from six yards out. In that moment, just like I really don’t think (LAFC coach) Steve Cherundolo’s telling Carlos Vela how to score from six yards out or eight yards out. That’s not happening. And (Manchester City manager) Pep Guardiola’s not telling his attackers from eight, 10, 12 yards out how to score goals.”