NEW YORK CITY, NY – In what might be the last action of the year for New York City FC, the club returns to Yankee Stadium for the first time since September 9th. Facing the daunting task of having to – at the very least – hang three goals on the red-hot Columbus Crew SC while allowing none, Patrick Vieira and his men will have to make history just to survive.
Break the Wheel
NYCFC’s 3-goal deficit ties the MLS playoff record for a first-leg goal differential. Unsurprisingly, on the three prior occasions the team with the 3-goal advantage advanced to the next round. Since its inception, the club is 2-3-3 against Columbus with a -1 differential (including the playoffs). In that time, there have been a total of 37 goals scored between the two clubs. The largest margin of victory has been 3 goals – first in a 4-1 NYCFC victory to close out the 2016 regular season, followed by Tuesday’s thrashing.
Neither club has been held scoreless in any match they’ve played against each other. In fact, that 4-1 victory last October is the only time NYCFC has held Columbus to just one goal.
In order to advance, NYCFC will have to do something they’ve never done before: either hold Columbus scoreless, or score five or more goals against them. The club has only scored 5 goals once before – a 5-1 victory in which David Villa did not play against Colorado last season.
Not a One-Man Show
That 5-goal stat combined with NYCFC’s history against Columbus brings up an interesting point. In the two matches City has won against the Crew, (4-1 last season, and 3-2 earlier this season) goals have come from everywhere but Villa – who has only one goal of the seven. It would appear that Greg Berhalter has an excellent plan to stop the reigning league MVP, but when the ball falls to the feet of Jack Harrison, Yangel Herrera or even Khiry Shelton – the Crew game plan seems to crumble.
If they want to have any hope of succeeding, the rest of the squad needs to step up and make it happen. No longer can they rely on the magic of David Villa to bail them out. Harrison, Rodney Wallace, and – if he gets the opportunity – Jonathan Lewis need to step up and help out their illustrious captain. The midfield, too, needs to be better about locating balls or even taking shots themselves. We saw last match that Herrera was taking some chances when he saw them, but they seemed to be out of desperation more than anything else. The shots were often off target. If Herrera can keep his head and not get too amped up in the moment, he can be a real alternative from an unexpected area and possibly put NYCFC on track to do what they need to.
Maxi Moralez didn’t have his best game in blue Tuesday night. With both Alex Ring and Herrera on his line, City relies on Maxi to translate the ball forward on the ground, but at least half of his passes on the night were either lateral or negative. Moralez needs to be able to penetrate into the attacking third and cleanly distribute the ball to his forwards. The vast majority of Moralez’s passes on the night were to the left side of the pitch – trying to find both Villa and Wallace. Understandable, considering Harrison’s generally off-night and the need for someone strong on the ball playing a man down. But in order to open up the forwards, Maxi and the rest of the midfield need to pose some kind of threat to be accounted for.
The Elephant in the Room
The absence of Alex Callens is a huge loss for City, of that there is no dispute. Pigeon fans got a glimmer of hope this week when the club reported Maxime Chanot has been upgraded from “Out” to “Questionable” for Sunday’s match. While Chanot’s return would be very welcome news, how Vieira handles the rest of the defense is up for debate.
Both Ronald Matarrita and Andraz Struna had immediate impact when subbed on in the first leg. While Ben Sweat and Ethan White have certainly done their part in getting City to where they are, perhaps its time to go back to the days of “the best defense is a good offense.” The inclusion of Matarrita and Struna will help to harass the Crew attack and also aid in recovering and retaining possession. Having wing-backs that are willing to commit to the attack allows guys like Wallace and Harrison to drift inside and clean up the crosses instead of being the guys that put in the crosses in the first place. Despite Vieira’s confidence that his men are creating chances, having your scoring threats closer to the goal markedly increases your odds of finishing those chances.
It’s do-or-die time in the Bronx. It’s time to do what this club does best.