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Columbus Crew SC coach Caleb Porter wants ‘ruthless’ goal-scoring

Jan 9, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew SC head coach Caleb Porter addresses attendees during an introductory press conference for the new Columbus Crew SC ownership at The Ivory Room. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Crew SC scored one goal in its first two exhibition games combined, only to get four in its last game in Chula Vista, Calif., against Los Angeles FC, the first Major League Soccer team it played on the leg.

Little can be determined from the first three exhibitions when there is a new starting 11 each half. That still hasn’t stopped first-year coach Caleb Porter from aggressively trying to establish a “ruthlessness” in the front third of the field.

“We had had some really nice passing sequences and buildup from back to front and really good chances created, but we needed to show more killer instinct,” Porter said. “And that’s great that they were able to show that (against LAFC).”

Porter has identified that the Crew struggled to score most of last season outside of forward Gyasi Zardes, and he is emphasizing getting more scoring throughout the lineup to bolster the offense. The Crew tied for fewest goals in the Eastern Conference last season with 43.

Like former coach Gregg Berhalter, Porter runs a 4-2-3-1 formation with active fullbacks. He is confident in the back line the Crew already has, but Porter wants more scoring out of the Nos. 7, 10 and 11 positions that occupy the three midfielder spots behind Zardes.

Last season out of those positions, Justin Meram had one goal in seven starts, Federico Higuain had six goals in 27 starts, and Pedro Santos had one goal in 29 starts. Turning chances into goals from the front four comes down to having a “ruthless” instinct that Porter believes is essential to the identity of a winning team.

“That’s a word that I use a lot. We have to be ruthless,” Porter said. “The best teams, they keep the ball and they turn it into acceleration and penetration and chance creation and goals. You got to be knifin’ the opponent and putting them on their back foot.

“That aggressiveness going to goal has to be a constant reinforcement, because the team is a very good passing team. They always have been, but I think we can score more goals.”

Porter’s teams in Portland ranked third or better in the Western Conference in goals scored four of his five seasons. The one year the team wasn’t in the top three, it won the MLS Cup.

Porter said the Crew steadily created more chances each game in Chula Vista. Three of the goals against LAFC started from playing balls to the front from the back four.

Now as the team gathers Sunday for a few training sessions at Ohio Dominican before leaving for Charleston, South Carolina, Porter is working on turning what he thinks is a strong foundation on offense and defense into a style of play worthy of being a top team once the season begins March 2.

“Box to box, we’ll be capable of winning every game, but we’ll only win the games if we get that final piece right, that final third,” Porter said. “Even in years past, last year, with all the passing and possession they had, it wasn’t always the end product when you look at the goal production last year. That’s something that we really feel like we need to push and emphasize.”

(c)2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) first published this article Feb. 9.
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