The Seattle Sounders visit the Columbus Crew on Saturday (4:30 p.m. PT; JOEtv, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) in Week 18 MLS action. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.
Brad Smith vs. Harrison Afful
Seattle and Columbus both prioritize chance creation from the flanks. The difference, though, is the type of service that each team utilizes. The Sounders like to create overloads in different areas of the pitch before entering the ‘optimal assist zones’ for a box-cross on the ground. Columbus, on the other hand, tends to go for quantity over quality, pumping in around 25 crosses per game, most of which come from a more withdrawn position.
The matchup between Smith and Afful, two of the premier attacking outside backs in MLS, will put those competing philosophies to the test. Whichever player can be more efficient in their forays forward will give his team a massive advantage on the scoresheet.
Gustav Svensson vs. Pedro Santos
Normally a winger for Columbus, Santos has been playing centrally due to Gonzalo Higuain’s season-ending injury and Wil Trapp’s extended absence with the U.S. Men’s National Team. That positional change has had mixed results thus far, as he’s created a handful of chances but has struggled to keep possession and set tempo. Svensson can take advantage of his relative inexperience in the middle of the pitch, thus nullifying Columbus’ primary chance creator while also launching counter-attacks from a central position.
Justin Dhillon vs. Aboubacar Keita
It’s been a pretty exciting week for Seattle’s Dhillon and Columbus’ Keita. Fresh off his first MLS contract, Dhillon has started up top in the last two games for the Sounders. The target striker has done an admirable job, battling center backs and applying pressure while carving out quality chances for himself.
Keita, a Homegrown defender, earned his first MLS start against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. The young center back has a lot of upside, but some of his passing out of the back is a bit too ambitious. He routinely turned the ball over in dangerous spots throughout the U-20 World Cup with some of his line-breaking passes. If Dhillon can press Keita when he’s on the ball, thus accelerating his decision-making process, Seattle’s midfielders will be able to pick off his passes and immediately launch transition moments.