Answers in short supply as offense sputters

Through five games, the Crew offense has scored four goals. This lack of scoring puts them near the bottom of offense in MLS. The Crew desperately need to change their fortunes in front of goal.

Key additions Olman Vargas and Milovan Mirosevic are struggling to make an impact for an offense that isn’t working. Veterans Eddie Gaven and Emilio Renteria are struggling to make an impact.

There are plenty of questions about who is underperforming or what is wrong. The statistics point to an offense that’s struggling to create chances. The Crew have 64 shots, tied for 13th in the league. Vargas and Mirosevic both have 11 shots each. The new guys are trying to make something happen on an offense that is misfiring, but to little effect yet.

Going beyond individual statistics, soccer is a team game. The offense succeeds or fails based on how well every part of the team links together. Scoring often falls to the forwards, but a lot goes into a successful offensive move. The midfield provides a vital role of getting the ball forward and creating dangerous chances. Even the way the defense plays has an impact on how well the team does in front of the net.

Starting in the back with the defenders, there are a series of options that already start to impact the offence. If a defender picks up the ball deep in the defensive third of the field, he has several options. He can look to build the attack by finding an outlet further up field. He can attempt to counterattack with quick passes to the midfield. The last option is to just launch the ball out of the defensive zone and clear it.

All too often this year, the Crew defense if forced into clearing the ball. Opponents will often press the Crew backline, forcing a long punt up the field. These are low percentage passes that often gift the ball back to the opponents. The midfield and forwards never have a chance to build anything.

The Crew’s transition from defense to offense has also been slow. When afforded time on the ball, the defense has struggled to push the ball forward to the midfield quickly. Many times there isn’t an available outlet to get the ball to, so the defender will play the longer, low percentage pass.

In the midfield, the team has struggled to play as a cohesive unit. Dilly Duka, expected to terrorize the left flank has only played 45 minutes this year due to injury. Duka’s youthful replacements have been inconsistent. Bernardo Anor scored a goal in Toronto, but struggled against New York and lost his starting place to rookie Ethan Finlay. Eddie Gaven has been anonymous on the right side. The normally reliable veteran has a mere 4 shots, 0 goals and 0 assists.

With neither side of the wings really making a consistent impact, the offensive load has increasingly fallen on the center of midfield. The offensive minded Mirosevic and rookie Kirk Urso have played every minute of the team’s 5 games, but are still learning to play with each other. Urso has tried to cover defensive responsibilities between the two, but has struggled as he adapts to the speed of MLS. Mirosevic has dropped further back to help out Urso. This has helped solidify the defense, but has drawn the Chilean far away from goal.

Mirosevic is often recovering the ball in the defensive third, far away from the forwards that he’s supposed to be supporting. Rather than having an array of offensive options at his disposal, often he’s looking to hold possession and move the ball forward. Mirosevic is certainly capable of this. He’s led the team in tackles for a midfielder and has generally looked adept there, but his offensive production has suffered. He has one goal, from a penalty, and no assists.

The team has already shuffled the lineup at forward. Olman Vargas has started four straight games and rookie Aaron Schoenfeld was a surprise starter over Emilio Renteria for the Crew’s trip to Philadelphia. No combination has looked especially threatening. The Crew is short at the forward position with Tom Heinemann injured for the year and second year man Justin Meram further down the depth chart. The team may look to unconventional options such as Gaven or Finlay, wingers who have played at forward.

The continual lineup shuffle is an indication that even the coaching staff is still trying to find the right combination of players on a team that is struggling with a lengthy injury list. Reinforcements are on the way. Duka’s injured ankle will keep him out of action for, but the versatile Danny O’Rourke and Carlos Mendes are primed to return. Both may jump right into the starting lineup. O’Rourke has already played center back, but looks to be moving forward to cover in midfield, with the hope of freeing Mirosevic to be the offensive force the team was hoping for when they signed him.

No other help coming for a while. Transfer window shut on April 16th and any acquisition the Crew makes would have to be a free agent. The coaches will have to fix an offense with the parts that are already on hand. Veterans such as Gaven and Renteria will have to elevate their game, the recent arrivals will have to get used to MLS quickly, and at least some of the Crew’s youth movement will have to step into the holes in the lineup. Without that, it will be a very long wait until summer and possible reinforcements.