Head coach Gregg Berhalter’s side now welcomes the Eastern Conference leaders, New York City FC, to MAPFRE Stadium. Crew SC hope the week off will help a return to good form, as it has now been nine matches and two and a half months since the last Columbus victory.
With the likes of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, the NYCFC offense is tied for the top spot in Major League Soccer. Head coach Patrick Vieira’s men though have allowed as many goals (40) as they’ve scored.
This game could mark the debut of Black & Gold summer transfer window signing Nicolai Næss. The central defender has had the last two weeks to gel with his teammates and will likely be inserted into Berhalter’s starting 11.
It should be an entertaining affair in a game where both teams like to attack. Can Crew SC begin to right the ship or will they continue to sink further away from the MLS Cup Playoffs? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Now let’s see what our experts think.
Crew SC will be facing a team that is good on the road in NYCFC, but they will have a fit Federico Higuain and Nico Næss in the lineup. Both will help with the biggest problems Crew SC has, creating quality chances and defensive solidity in central defense. Higuain creates little sparks of magic on a team that had regressed to drudgery too often during his absence. Næss will be better in the air than both Tyson Wahl and Michael Parkhurst and mobile enough to help cover for the lack of protection that the wide open midfield.
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Oh look, another team that is now top of the Eastern Conference is coming for a visit. Things don't get much better do they. Here is what I'm hoping to see. First, a sign that the players have not given up on the season. ANY SIGN. The coach and the captains are talking a talk, but the body language is saying something different. Second, I’m looking forward to seeing Nicolai Næss on the field and hope he is the needed spark to help turn the tide. Third, I will be interested to see who starts on the right wing. If Cedric Mabwati starts, I would be concerned for Ethan Finlay and about him/his form
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The hope is that the extra time on the practice pitch between matches will give the Black & Gold some time for a much needed rethink. But by this point it seems unreasonable to expect much in the way of change from Gregg Berhalter. His faith in his side and style of play is admirable, but at this point it's misguided. Unless the Crew play their best match of the season (or Berhalter springs a huge surprise) I don't see Columbus having enough to topple NYCFC.
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I think the week off helps Crew SC in this contest. Not only does it allow Nicolai Næss to get comfortable with his teammates and likely prove he deserves a starting spot, but it also gave Federico Higauin another week to get healthier and the players a chance to refocus.
According to everyone I’ve talked to close to the team, it was a good week of training and last Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage had some real intensity that might have been lacking before that. Maybe someone woke the sleeping giant.
With that said, I still think NYCFC is on too much of a roll and frankly has more talent than Columbus. Neither team is very secure defensively, so I see a shootout. The recent results say a draw, but I don’t see it going that way.
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We suck. NYCFC doesn't. Ola Kamara scores, Ethan Finlay looks bad, Columbus gives up a stupid goal early off an unforced error and then implodes. I'm running out of ways to give the same prediction. Maybe I'll be proven wrong someday. Until then it's rinse and repeat.
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One of the three Crew SC victories on the year came at home against City so the team can go into this game with the confidence that they have already beat them once.
Don't expect to see the same match this time around though...
The NYCFC set up will be pretty different than the last meeting in Columbus. Stiven Mendoza and Tony Taylor will likely be relegated to the bench, with Tommy McNamara and Jack Harrison taking their spots on the wing. R.J. Allen is likely to start at left back and Jason Hernandez will now playing at right back while Maxime Chanot steps in as center back in his previous role.
It should also be noted that head coach Patrick Vieira has converted former Athletic Club Bilbao wingback Andoni Iraola to holding midfielder. This move has been an integral part of the turnaround for the team this season. Since that change: six wins, two draws, three losses, and NYCFC sits top of the East. While inconsistency still troubles them, their team has been much improved.
Now why am I telling you of all these changes? To illustrate Vieira's willingness to make changes, tweak tactics, and shuffle personnel which has turned their season around. I'll leave that for a later discussion... But right now, I don't see Crew SC coming away with a victory, nor a point, nor a goal. Too much needs to change, more than just a new center back - the underlying problems are bigger than that.
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In the time since NYCFC last visited Ohio in mid-April, Columbus Crew SC has very little to show for its endeavors in the post-Kei Kamara era. That 3-2 victory for the Black & Gold was one of the most recent signs that a regaining of 2015 form might be possible, and even that was still a flawed showing. The summer transfer window passed without the front office making any earth-shattering acquisitions, and now Patrick Vieira's men return to Columbus atop the conference. So contextually, the outlook for the home club tomorrow is bleak at best.
Between Andoni Iraola's versatility along the right flank, David Villa's high chances-created-per-touch ratio and Tommy McNamara's ability to toggle between engineering sequences in traffic and contesting opposing possession deftly, NYCFC is well-equipped to do big things against an aimless Crew SC side. Defender Nicolai Næss will hopefully inject some dynamic stuff into the defense for Columbus but, then again, New York City hasn't rattled off nine wins since the teams' last meeting by accident. I expect Federico Higuaín, Wil Trapp and Harrison Afful to have sound matches individually, but the overall team chemistry just hasn't been consistently good often enough for me to go out on a limb with a prediction for a win. A tie is unfortunately best-case at this juncture. Justin Meram is the guy I think needs to step up most offensively by getting creative, and maybe even a bit selfish, for Crew SC.
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