DENVER, CO – The final push to top the Eastern Conference starts a mile high. New York City FC will visit Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to take on the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night.
Watch Your Step
….because it’s a long way down. With only six matches remaining, nine points separate the Boys in Blue from Toronto FC. The points needed are there to be had if City can take advantage and Toronto starts to stumble.
However, the same nine points separate City from the rest of the playoff field. If you accept it’s possible that City overtakes Toronto, it’s equally possible that the chaos below City on the table swallows them up. Five points currently separate NYCFC from Chicago Fire SC, but only four points separate Chicago from the sixth-place Red Bulls.
If New York City allow the Portland loss to linger and they stumble across the finish line, it is entirely possible that a team like Atlanta United FC – just eight points behind with two games in hand and the lion’s share of their remaining matches at home – bump them from the bye.
Luckily, City has some control over what happens to them, as two of those remaining matches are against Chicago and Columbus Crew SC. They will need every point they can get just to keep pace with Atlanta, who’ve lost only two of their last eleven.
The Trap is Set
The last time NYCFC traveled to the Mountain timezone, we saw heavy rotation lead to a disappointing 2-1 loss against Real Salt Lake. This weekend, NYCFC are still without a host of players – including starter Yangel Herrera – and will once again have to rely on depth players to have an impact. Alex Ring is listed as questionable, but could be seen doing rehab drills in this week’s behind-the-scenes practice video.
It is imperative that City avoid making the same mistakes they made in Utah. A lot of that pressure is on the shoulders of Patrick Vieira. There is temptation to rotate this weekend. All of the incentives are there: a weak opponent, an injury-riddled midfield, it’s the first match after a two-match-in-three-days week late in the season and the playoffs are only a month away.
The one positive takeaway from the injury report is that captain David Villa is in line to return. Vieira also noted that both James Sands and newcomer Andraz Struna could get time this weekend. In an eerily foreboding parallel, Villa’s return comes on the heels of talk of Atlanta’s Josef Martinez overtaking the Spaniard in the Golden Boot race.
Martinez has scored 13 goals in 945 minutes to Villa’s 19 in 2,155 minutes.
It is essential that NYCFC come out firing and put this game away early. If anyone takes a couple minutes off – if someone gets lazy or isn’t putting in their best effort, a 0-0 draw would be disastrous. 20 of Colorado’s 25 points have come at home this season, and the Rapids are coming off their first away win of the year against playoff contenders Houston Dynamo. While City is unbeaten against Colorado, it’s hard to ignore the club’s propensity to play to their opponent’s level.
Exorcise the doubt. Make a statement.