In the first meeting, Columbus took a first half lead into the locker room thanks to Kei Kamara's 18th goal of the season. The lead was not to be held however, as City's Kwadwo Poku scored a second half brace that gave the visitors the lead. Second half substitute Cedrick Mabwati pulled things level just before a long delay in the match due to weather. In the end, it was a 2-2 draw at MAPFRE Stadium.
Since that game, these two teams have gone in different directions.
Last Saturday, the Black & Gold came from behind twice to ultimately defeat Sporting Kansas City 3-2 thanks to a 88th minute Jack McInerney goal.
Meanwhile, NYCFC was blitzed out on the west coast by the LA Galaxy in a lopsided 5-1 scoreline.
Crew SC sit in third place in the Eastern Conference heading into this match. The Black & Gold have 38 points, 10 ahead of their opponent. New York City is just outside the playoffs, tied with the Montreal Impact with 28 points.
To preview the match after the quick return, we talked with Raf of Hudson River Blue.
Questions for Hudson River Blue
Massive Report: After last week's meeting at MAPFRE Stadium, this game moves to the Big Apple. So be honest here, how big a factor is the small field at Yankee Stadium for opposing teams?
Hudson River Blue: It's a pretty big factor. One of the things we've seen this season at Yankee Stadium is teams using set-pieces to jumpstart attacks, whether that's long throw-ins into the box or free kicks. But that's not the entire tale.
There is an article out there that really breaks down how much of a factor Yankee Stadium's field is. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — talks about the size of the field. What was much less mentioned — at least, until Schultz did it — was the fact that about a third of the field is made up of sod laid upon the infield, and what effect that has on the run of play.
The effect is so massive that only three goals — that's right, three — were scored in that part of the field all season long. The majority of the goals — I'd say a significant majority — are scored on the goal in the outfield grass, which is far better maintained. After reading that, I'd suspect that if any goals are scored Saturday, that's where they'll be scored. If I were an opposing team, then, that's the factor I'd be paying attention to.
MR: Speaking of that first meeting, what was the NYCFC reaction to the draw? Being up 2-1 on the road, were fans disappointed with just one point?
HRB: There was some disappointment — you never want to "drop" points, so to speak. On the flip side, though, New York City has a rough time coming from behind this season. It's not a specialty of the team. So that disappointment was tempered by the fact that the team responded very well in the second half. And even if we just came away with the draw, that's still one point — and one point is better than none, at this part of the season.
Saturday's game is the "must-win" for fans — the team is playing at home, and it looks like the weather will be perfect for soccer — so if the Blues drop points here, there's definitely going to be disappointment.
MR: Gregg Berhalter said this week he expects Frank Lampard to return to the lineup for this contest. If Lampard is in fact in the game, how does that change things for City? What should the many traveling Columbus fans expect to see different than in the first meeting?
HRB: Oh, man. Lampard in the lineup creates a ton of dilemmas — for New York City.
First: where do you play him? New York City's most effective lineup has been a 4-2-3-1.
So: who sits for Lampard? What we saw in the last full game that Lampard played — against the arch-rival Red Bulls — is this lineup here.
Lampard was, to put it politely, ineffective. He had some decent looks at goal, but didn't manage to put the ball on frame. By the second half, Lampard was absolutely spent. Which is to be expected: he's 37! It culminated with him getting nutmegged by Red Bulls midfielder Mike Grella to set up their second goal of the game.
He hasn't played since, thanks to a nagging muscular injury.
That masks a deeper concern, though. In an ideal world, Lampard would be occupying the role that Andrea Pirlo has. He'd be sitting at the bottom of a diamond 4-4-2, spraying passes to his other midfielders. Maybe it's a 4-2-3-1, but the principle remains the same: Frank Lampard, as a deep-lying playmaker, who can come forward and score from distance.
But this is reality, not an ideal world. New York City signed Andrea Pirlo to do the things that Andrea Pirlo does. So that leaves Lampard in limbo.
In this team, as it's structured, there's no good place for Lampard. He can't cover for Pirlo on defense; he's simply not mobile enough anymore. If you put him up top as a number 10, you're sacrificing Kwadwo Poku, who's been the revelation for this team. As we saw against the Red Bulls, Pirlo, Lampard, and Villa don't have the same kind of connection that Pirlo, Poku, and Villa have. And you're not going to put him in in lieu of Tommy McNamara or Mix Diskerud; not only is he not mobile enough, he also lacks stamina.
My guess is that if we see Lampard this Saturday, it's going to be in the same place he was against the Red Bulls. And I suspect he's likely to be just as ineffective. I hope not, but I've seen nothing to indicate otherwise.