With their 4-2-3-1 formation, the Crew outnumbered San Jose 3 v. 2 in the middle of midfield. It was always going to be interesting to see whether the extra man would allow the Crew to boss possession and dictate the tempo of the game; plus how the Earthquakes would deal with Federico Higuain playing in the hole just off of Jairo Arrieta. Higuain is clever with his movement, often finding space to receive the ball between the lines of the opposition back four and midfield. He’s dangerous in these areas, using his exceptional vision and passing ability to release balls in behind the back four.
San Jose defended with a defensive and midfield bank of four. The Earthquakes did a decent job keeping the two banks compact, crucially limiting the space for Higuain to operate between the seams. Sam Cronin was mostly responsible for sticking close to Higuain, allowing Rafael Baca to step forward and apply pressure to Agustin Viana. However, both San Jose central midfielders were content to allow Danny O’Rourke and Viana to drop in behind their midfield bank of four and collect the ball.
Their willingness to allow the Crew’s two deeper lying midfielders to have possession deep in midfield probably came down to Viana and O’Rourke being fairly defensive-focused players not known for their ability to pick apart an opposition with their passing. Indeed, O’Rourke and Viana tended to sit just in front of the Crew’s back four and the bulk of their distribution went sideways. Neither were able to penetrate San Jose’s midfield four either with forward passes or by breaking past them off the dribble, which meant Baca and Cronin could focus their attention on the movement of Higuain. As a result, the Crew’s formation was rather rigid and predictable.
You often see Manchester City struggle with the same issue when Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia are paired together as the deep lying midfielders in their 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2. Without the powerful direct running and vision of Yaya Toure to penetrate that first line of defense, their play often moves side to side without enough pace to pull the defense out of position.
The Crew needed to be a bit more adventurous in the middle of midfield and play with more urgency.