Three Honest Thoughts On NYCFC’s Match-Up With the Columbus Crew
Semi-final matchup begins with first leg on Tuesday in Columbus.
For the second straight season, NYCFC finds themselves as the second-seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs. After a disappointing exit in the playoffs a season ago to Toronto FC, NYCFC seeks to amend last season’s postseason disaster.
Standing in the path of NYCFC is the Columbus Crew, a team in the middle of a literal identity crisis. With Columbus owner Anthony Precourt expressing the desire to move the team down to Austin, Texas in 2019, NYCFC is not the only obstacle the Crew face at this moment.
Despite the threat of moving to a city with the motto of “keeping it weird,” the Crew are proving to be a resilient side and a tough out for any opponent. After their impressive penalty shootout win over Atlanta United in front of an MLS playoff record crowd of 67,221 people, the Crew are ready to go down swinging if this is their last hoorah in Columbus.
Before the semi-finals kick-off on October 31st at Mapfre Stadium, here are my three thoughts honest thoughts on what should prove to be a competitive tie.
With a move to Austin looming, the pressure is on NYCFC?
For some, this may come as an obvious claim. Regardless, the pressure is all on the shoulders of NYCFC and Patrick Vieira in this semi-final.
Coming into this playoff match-up, NYCFC is not firing on all cylinders. With three wins in their last ten matches, NYCFC is limping into what could be an early exit at the hands of the Crew.
Of course, the injury bug has hit the squad hard over the course of the last few months, making life difficult for Vieira as he tries to figure out his playoff starting eleven. With the embarrassment of last year’s playoff exit still fresh in the minds of fans, the pressure is on NYCFC to at least get into the Eastern Conference finals.
As for the Crew, with all of the drama surrounding Precourt and a possible relocation, no one is expecting much from them. All of the pressure that the Crew face isn’t on the team, but on the management and specifically, Precourt.
Lastly, let’s not forget the Crew was all but forgotten when it came to preseason favorites while NYCFC ranked among the top the list of favorites to hoist the MLS Cup. If there is ever a time to prove that you belong among the best, it is now for Gregg Berhalter and his side.
With little to no expectations for the Crew to advance further into the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, all the pressure will lie on Vieira and his team to advance.
Two-Seed Woes Again?
First off, the Crew does not have the quality that Toronto FC had last season. Therefore, do not expect NYCFC to get escorted out of the playoffs on a 7-0 aggregate again. Second, NYCFC has some experience under their belts after their inaugural playoff appearance last year, thus eliminating the likelihood of a blowout.
Last year, Patrick Vieira got his tactics wrong, and NYCFC faltered. This year, Vieira has gotten his tactics, for the most part, right all season. Heading into their match-up with the Crew on the 31st, expect Vieira to produce his best starting eleven and for him to get his tactics right yet again this season.
However, there is one underlying problem. Injuries.
This whole season, injuries riddled the NYCFC roster and even more so at the tail end of this season. Could Vieira not being able to put out a consistent starting eleven in the matches leading up to the playoffs hurt NYCFC this semi-final? Definitely and it is a worrisome problem in my eyes.
With things not clicking at the moment for the ‘Boys in Blue’ and the Crew having nothing to lose in this tie, don’t be surprised if this fixture comes down to the wire.
Third Time Lucky for the Crew? Maybe
NYCFC and the Crew are quite familiar with one another as both of their matches this season were critical fixtures among their 34-match season.
Back in April, a Villa & Pirlo-less NYCFC roster took on the Crew in Columbus. That match featured a breakout performance from midfielder Yangel Herrera and a Jack Harrison brace in a comeback 3-2 win. This road win in Columbus marked, for some, a turning point in NYCFC’s season as it showed the depth NYCFC.
Last Sunday, the Crew came to NYC to take on NYCFC in a regular season finale with substantial playoff implications the line. After going up 2-1 following a rare error by likely future USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen, NYCFC succumbed to Columbus pressure and dropped a deserved three points.
With both of these results in mind, expect NYCFC to be confident against the Crew, having beaten them on their home field without their best player. As for Columbus, there is no reason to believe that they cannot beat NYCFC. In both matches, they found themselves ahead before blowing a lead in both matches.
Expect to see two teams go after it in these two legs and don’t be surprised if Columbus comes out and gets an early goal against Vieira’s men.