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Lowery’s 10 MLS Thoughts: Best XI problems, keys in the Conference Finals & more

This week, we dive into the Conference Finals, bemoan the Best XI, and more.

8 min read
Design: Peyton Gallaher

This week’s 10 MLS Thoughts dives into each team in the Conference Finals, dissects this year’s Best XI, and does a whole bunch of other things, too.

1. Columbus’ secret weapon

We spend tons of time talking about the Columbus Crew’s possession play under Wilfried Nancy — and for good reason. They keep the ball more than any team in MLS and use the ball better than any team in MLS. But the Crew’s work in possession is far from the only thing propelling them to success. No, Columbus’ secret weapon isn’t what they do on the ball. 

It’s what they do right after they lose it.

Only four teams forced more high turnovers than the Crew in the regular season, according to Opta, and only four teams created more shots from those high turnovers than the Crew. Nancy doesn’t instruct his team to press all the time, but he does demand quick reactions and aggressive counter pressing from his players right after they lose the ball in the final third. Why? Because if you press right after losing possession, you don’t allow your opponents time to think or to get organized. You keep control, you keep your field position, and you even create a few pseudo-transitions to attack against a scrambled defense.

Columbus counter pressed their way past Atlanta United in Round 1…

…and then snagged the go-ahead goal in the Eastern Conference semis against Orlando City on Saturday after great counter pressing work from Aidan Morris.

They’re not a traditional pressing team, but the Crew will smother you if you take a breath at the wrong time. Cincinnati (and whoever’s on their schedule in 2024), beware.

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