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TACTICAL: Keeping Federico Higuain on a leash

23 May 7:38 am

TACTICAL: Keeping Federico Higuain on a leash

By Stephen Piggott

The Fire head to Columbus on Saturday night (6:00pm on My50/TWCSC) looking to make it three wins in a row after laboring to earn a victory at home against Sporting KC last weekend. The Crew started well under new coach Gregg Berhalter but haven’t won in eight matches. Here are some tactical things to look out for.

Another week, another weakened defense – taking advantage of the Crew’s makeshift back four

The Fire took full advantage of Sporting KC’s defensive absences last weekend and I expect the team to look to follow suit on Saturday night. Columbus will be missing two of their Costa Rican defenders, center back Giancarlo Gonzalez and left back Waylon Francis while Michael Parkhurst will return after being cut from the U.S. World Cup squad.

Last week, the Fire looked to put pressure on the KC back line and it worked very well, forcing two penalty kicks in the first 15 minutes of the match. I look for the Fire to be more consistent with the high pressure tactic instead of starting with it, then sitting back before taking it back up again.

Like last week, the Fire are catching Columbus at a good time and need to be ruthless. If the team had managed to pick up a third goal last week, the last twenty minutes or so wouldn’t have been as nerve wracking. If the team does manage to take a lead, looking to double it instead of sitting back and letting Columbus dictate should be the plan.

Both Quincy Amarikwa and Mike Magee found space in behind the KC defense last week and if they can be found again by the likes of Shipp and Joya, the Fire could certainly leave Columbus with three points.

Mass changes on the right? – Dealing with the possible injury losses of Nyarko and Palmer

The Fire’s injury report published late this week brought some unwelcome news in the form of injury to Patrick Nyarko and sickness for Lovel Palmer. The Fire’s starters in right midfield and defense could both miss out on Saturday which would be a big blow considering how well both played last week.

Palmer had been criticized by some for his defensive performances but he had a fine game against Sporting KC. Nyarko was also a standout player last week, both tracking back to help out Palmer defensively and helping to pressure the KC players off the ball.

With both players potentially missing this week, Coach Yallop has a tough decision on his hands. Matt Watson has had some time at right back this season when Palmer was suspended but Logan Pause or even the fit-again Steven Kinney could feature.

On the wing, Victor Pineda may get the start while Dilly Duka could also make the move from his usual left wing position. Duka replaced Nyarko last week and looked good in the attacking third, cutting in onto his favored left foot. If Duka does get the nod, I look for him to track back more and help out whoever our right-back is defensively.

The Fire outside defenders have been left isolated too often this season which is one of the reasons the team has given up 19 goals to date. With the possibility of two stalwarts in the Fire lineup missing, the Crew’s plan will be attack as often as possible down the Fire right so a strong defensive performance from Nyarko and Palmer’s replacements is imperative.

Keeping Higuain on a tight leash – not allowing the Argentine to create for the Crew

For me, Federico Higuain is probably the best creative midfielder in all of MLS. His vision, passing range and set piece deliveries are unique and he would improve any team in the league if he joined them.  

Like Magee, Higuain likes to drop deep to get the ball and is also very comfortable operating in the space between the opposition midfield and defense. He essentially has a free role with Columbus and covers quite a bit of ground, making him hard to track.

Last week’s 3-3 draw with Portland also highlighted Higuain’s scoring threat, chipping the 6’4” Donovan Ricketts from outside the area to earn the Crew a 3-3 draw. With six goals and three assists on the year, Higuain has been directly involved in 70% of the Crew’s 13 goals in 2014.

In matches this season, the Fire have generally done a good job keeping the opposing team’s most influential players quiet which is mostly down to stopping the person from getting the ball. Assistant coach C.J. Brown emphasized this point during the buildup to the Columbus match.

With this in mind, most of the burden will be on Jeff Larentowicz to try and keep Higuain under lock and key.

Prediction: A high scoring draw (2-2) with goals from Mike Magee and Harry Shipp

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