WILLETS POINT, NY – In a match pitting stadium drama against stadium drama, New York City FC and Columbus Crew SC will each be playing for some form of stability. Over the last two weeks, each club has been met with unwelcome news regarding their home venues: City’s displacement to (the much-more-aptly-named) CitiField, and Columbus’ pending move to Austin, Texas.
Gregg Berhalter‘s Crew have found themselves in fantastic form in the second half of the season. Without much fanfare or league-wide recognition, Columbus has lost only three matches since summer began, playing to a 9W-4D-3L record since June 24th. The Crew have performed well against the league’s best in that stretch with victories over Chicago, Red Bulls and FC Dallas, as well as draws at Vancouver and home against Kansas City. The MLS originals come to NYC on a 3-match win streak.
Meanwhile, NYCFC have only won two matches since the end of summer. While the Boys in Blue do have a similar record to Columbus in the same span – they are 8W-5D-4L in the second half – City find themselves limping into the playoffs. What should have been a triumphant trampling of the lower half of the league to close out the season has turned into full-on disaster, with draws to Colorado and Houston, and a loss to New England last week casting doubt on their finish.
Destiny in Limbo
Patrick Vieira and his men hold the keys to their own destiny, but in a disturbing parallel, lack of finishing and an inability to close out matches has lead to a precarious finish to the season. By 8pm on Sunday, NYCFC could be anywhere in the Eastern Conference standings from 2nd place – which they have occupied for nearly the entire season – or 5th place, which would have them miss a much-needed round of rest.
City will have a nearly full-compliment of players for their final regular season match, with only Maxime Chanot, James Sands, and Miguel Camargo on the injury report. Chanot has been training lightly with the squad and may be available for the playoffs. Sands will be on his way home from India after the US U17s fell to England’s squad at the U17 World Cup.
Andrea Pirlo may also get his final appearance as a professional player Sunday night. Many – this author included – have been harshly critical of il Maestro’s play in New York City, but none can deny the lasting impact Pirlo has had on the history of the game. Despite a lackluster season with NYCFC, Pirlo is deserving of every bit of retrospective praise he receives. And who knows? Maybe he has a some heroics left in him.
One thing is for sure: whatever has plagued this team since the end of August must be exorcised. Columbus has all the “extra motivation” they need to play well and finish strong – for their fans and for their city. If the pigeons can’t solve their finishing problem, it’s about to become a lot more complicated than not scoring goals.