A week and a half ago, Columbus Crew SC and New York City FC met for the first time ever, and, boy, was it forgettable. The Black & Gold blew a first half lead and had to get a late strike just to salvage a draw. The final 45 minutes were devoid of energy from Crew SC, and the overall feeling post match was blah and non-emotive.
Days later, Columbus managed to put together one of its better performances of the season, and certainly one of its gutsiest, against Sporting Kansas City. Can Crew SC carry momentum from that and muster up some more attitude as it travels to the matchbox field in the Bronx to take on NYCFC for a second time in 10 days?
Here are a couple of important things to keep an eye on in the second clash. You can offer your own points of interest and react to ours in the comments section below. (Talk to us, people!)
For the first 30 minutes of the first meeting, the Black & Gold controlled the ball and the game. It resulted in a 1-0 lead, but it also limited NYCFC's chances. Possession is a big part of Gregg Berhalter's system and the obvious benefit is, typically, creating more opportunities on goal. It's part and parcel with Columbus soccer right now. But here's why possession matters in this game.
Controlling the ball will push New York City deeper, which will pin the wingers and fullbacks back and make it easier to win back possession in the midfield, should it be lost. Perhaps most importantly, it will allow Crew SC to play higher up the field and offer less space for Andrea Pirlo. Whatever the Italian maestro has lost physically, he's got magic in spades in both his foot and his mind. Even in his short time with the team, he's leading NYCFC in key passes per 90 minutes (2.0). His pass sparked Kwadwo Poku's first goal against Columbus last time around. By compressing the field and playing higher up in possession, it provides less space and time for Pirlo to look up field and find the right pass to make. Now, he doesn't need much room to do that, but there has to be some pressure on him. Plus, with City pinned back it offers Pirlo's teammates less time to get into position to receive said passes, and it forces David Villa into further isolation up top — something he's recently expressed frustration about. Villa is immensely talented, but he's not a true No. 9, so anything Crew SC can do to make him play like one will help limit his effectiveness.
And when it comes to the counter, Villa and Poku can be dangerous, but there's not a ton of speed on the flanks to outlet the ball to. This is a team that, although it hasn't always figured out how to maintain it, wants possession.
Plus, when they don't have it, that means defenders in blue need to actually defend, and, well, let's just say that's not the team's strong suit.
Crew SC's defensive midfield pairing of Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani might be one of the few things about which there has been no question this season for the Black & Gold. That doesn't mean they should be taken for granted. That duo will be critical in their defensive responsibilities because New York City loves to combine in the middle as it enters the attacking third. The D-mids have to break that up. Remember Poku's one-touch pass, turn and run that led to his first goal? That's signature Poku. If he's allowed to make that move and run unimpeded, it's going to be a long day. NYCFC is still finding its identity, but the club is getting closer, and Poku is a big reason why. He has to be slowed.
Will we see Frank Lampard in a New York City FC jersey on Saturday? If so, what does that mean for the game and for CCSC? It's hard to say, because thus far Lampard has been out of shape and, well, not good. But, in 107 minutes across two appearances, Lampard posted 1.5 key passes per 90 minutes (that's third on the team behind Pirlo and Villa). It's a ridiculously small sample size, but the point is that even a subpar Lampard can make an impact. He's certainly got a higher ceiling than anyone else on the NYCFC bench. If he does play, the Black & Gold will want to get on him early and often, because his fitness and adjustment to the physicality of the league are both major question marks. That sounds like a job for Tchani and his golden — OK, yellow(-card inducing) — tackles.
Speaking of benches, Columbus has found its in the past couple of weeks. Cedrick Mabwati has been good in substitute minutes in the last two games, making an impact in both and scoring a goal. Jack McInerney obviously made his mark against SKC. Crew SC needs more of that. Not just the goals, but the energy and the presence.
90 minutes, please
In the last meeting, the Black & Gold played a strong, mostly mistake-free first half. But then the energy lapsed and everything fell apart. It's not the first time we've seen such things from this team. The energy has to be there for 90 minutes. The movement — both attacking and defending — has to be there for 90 minutes. When this team (or any team, for that matter) gets stagnant, everything comes to a screeching halt. That's part of the reason that Cedrick and McInerney can be so important off the bench, as they offer fresh off-the-ball movement. It's all the more important on the postage stamp — or matchbox, or sardine can, or *insert tiny container* — of a field that is Yankee Stadium. Berhalter played down the narrow dimensions, and the reality is that that aspect is probably discussed a little too much, but it's naive to deny its impact entirely. It certainly allows NYCFC to stay a little more compact defensively, and Columbus has often struggled against compact defenses. Movement will be the way to create space when pure wide play may not be as effective.
It's all especially important when considering how bland Crew SC has often been on the road.