2014 saw Major League Soccer‘s Portland Timbers acquire Fanendo Adi from Danish side FC København. Since Timber’s acquisition of the Nigerian, Adi has become a familiar face in the league, appearing in over 100 MLS fixtures. The summer of 2018 saw another move for Adi, this time across to FC Cincinnati. Formerly competing in the USL Championship, FC Cincinnati was accepted into Major League Soccer in May of 2018 and wasted little time to get their target man. Unfortunately for Adi, midway into the 2019 MLS season he picked up another long-term injury and was ultimately released by the club at the end of the season. While injuries ultimately closed one door for Adi, another opened relatively quickly as Columbus Crew announced his signing in January of 2020.
While the below heat map for the 2019 MLS season may show little involvement from the Nigerian, a couple of factors must be taken into consideration to provide context. FC Cincinnati finished bottom of the table across both the Eastern and Western Conferences combined. As such, Adi enjoyed much less of the ball in goal-scoring areas than other centre-forwards across the league. Additionally, Adi sustained a muscular injury only 12 games into the season, again impacting the below image.
From the 2019 heat map of Adi, what can be interpreted is that his positioning is relatively central. Adi plays with limited movement or influence outside the width of the penalty area which helps play to the strengths he has. With more dynamic centre-forwards, it’s likely they will show more willingness to work in the channels. The tactics that Adi employs, however, are to stay in the middle of the pitch and get into the box in order to use his height to his advantage.
It was calculated that in 2019, Adi could expect to receive 1.7 finishing opportunities per game which isn’t too many for a centre-forward. With a low number of chances to score, it wouldn’t be too far from the imagination to expect that players would begin to attempt shots from distance or from difficult angles just to have a few more attempts at goal. What’s interesting about the following two images is to see how disciplined Adi is in looking to finish from high probability scoring areas. More than 40% of Adi’s finishing chances are taken inside of the penalty area and inside the width of the six-yard box.
With a move to Columbus and the hopes of a returning Federico Higuaín for the 2020 season, Adi’s hopes of quality service into key finishing areas may be imminent.
The target man
As with any 6′ 4″ centre-forward, being a target man pretty much comes as part of the job description (despite the technical qualities they may possess). As Fanendo Adi comes to Columbus with years of experience in this particular role, fans can expect to see him used in a different way to the likes of Gyasi Zardes. Zardes brings pace and power while Adi will help to bring others into the game and offer a target when looking to penetrate quickly.
The first image below shows some intelligence that Adi has when timing his movement. This allows him to be unmarked and bring the ball down quickly and with minimal pressure.
The next image below shows Cincinnati looking to deliver crosses into the box. As mentioned earlier in this tactical analysis scout report, being 6′ 4” can make Adi a nightmare to defend against. Working the ball into good areas to cross from can be a useful tactic for Columbus as Adi works well to position himself inside the width of the goalposts.
Bringing others into the game
One aspect of Adi’s game that has been really enjoyable to analyze has been his selflessness. While Adi is often the target in Cincinnati’s tactics, he brings others into the game quickly. As I’m sure his head coach at the time, Alan Koch, had worked these tactics into the teams training regime, the speed at which support arrives and the variety of options is impressive to observe.
The image below shows again a direct ball played into Adi while three Cincinnati players quickly move to support underneath. Not only does this allow Adi multiple passing options, but FC Cincinnati has also been able to create a numerical advantage around the ball.
The next image shows Adi’s ability to ‘pin’ an opponent. As he stands his ground with a direct ball played into him, a small disguised touch around the corner allows Cincinnati to get in-behind and create a finishing opportunity. What can also be observed is the second defender and how he is also attracted to Adi. With the physical capability to secure possession in 1v1 duels, teams often try to combat his dominance with doubling up. The benefit to his teammates is that this helps open up more space for others.
Centre-forwards, at times, can become isolated in the game. In particular when the team is defending deep. It’s really no easy task to be able to bring down the ball under pressure and then protect it for long enough for the team to push up the field. The next image below shows exactly that and Adi’s strength allows Cinncinati to get runs ahead of the ball.
Quite the handful
As centre-backs are characteristically bigger and stronger guys within the team, playing against a different type of centre-forward such as Adi brings a whole different challenge. As his height poses a constant threat, a tactic that opponents can often employ is to hold, bump or prevent him from jumping. The benefit now to Columbus is that this brings the increased probability of being fouled or of the opponent overcommitting which is shown below.
This next image shows a Chicago fire player with arms completely around Adi in order to do anything he could to stop him. This time he gets away with it but this won’t always be the case. The counter-side to opponents trying to wrap him up is that it can also allow Adi the opportunity to pin the opponent. This could then be seen as an advantage to Adi, depending on what support looks like around him in the moment.
The below image shows a Colorado Rapids centre-back trying to overcommit to the ball. With Adi’s strength and tactical awareness, he’s able to roll the centre-back and attack the goal.
Pace & runs in-behind
While Adi will certainly bring some qualities to Columbus that the team currently lacks, pace and runs in-behind are not qualities that fans can expect to see from the Nigerian. The below two images show Columbus playing on the counter and also breaking down a low block with a creative pass and run. While Adi is on the field during the 2020 season, Columbus will have to find different ways to create chances.
One tactic that could be employed is to have a two-man front line with Zardes working as the runner in-behind. The below image shows Columbus trying to release to American in a quick counter-attack. If Adi was to play alongside him, a direct ball to Adi would freeze the backline from dropping as they would need to contest for the ball. With Adi’s physical dominance, a flick-on would potentially help create more space for Zades in-behind.
Being quick over five yards may not be a strength of Adi’s. Meaning runs in-behind such as the below image may not play to his strengths. What is promising, however, is to see Columbus work the ball into the penalty area in areas that Adi likes to finish from.
While it may still be expected for Columbus fans to see Zades as the number one choice at centre-forward, Fanendo Adi will certainly provide an alternative option to Columbus this coming season. Based on the opponent or game situation, head coach Caleb Porter will surely look to utilize Adi to his strengths and will value the way he’s able to bring others into the game. Fans and Adi alike will be hopeful the Nigerian is able to find the goal scoring form that he had at Portland while looking to put recent injuries behind him.