Many people around Major League Soccer consider Columbus Crew SC’s playing style, based on heavy possession and attack form the wings, unique around the league. However, statistics show that another franchise is succeeding utilizing the same brand of soccer: the Black & Gold’s next opponent, New York City FC.
The Eastern Conference rivals are among the teams that lead the league in possession, with NYCFC topping the list with 58.3 percent and Crew SC ranking fourth, with 53.4 percent, according to WhoScored.com. The teams are the first and second in passing accuracy (Crew SC with 82 percent, NYCFC with 81.7 percent) and short passes completed per game (NYCFC averages 385, Crew SC 358).
Most of City’s possession is controlled by the players who occupy the center of the field, with center backs Maxime Chanot (88 percent passing accuracy) and Alexander Callens (87.3 percent) and midfielders Maximiliano Moralez (84.7 percent) and Andrea Pirlo (84.5 percent) being the most effective passers of the team.
“I think they are a better passing team than we are, to be honest,” Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said after watching New York City’s s 2-1 defeat to Orlando City in person last Sunday. “We’re pretty good, but I think they are one notch better than us. That’s a big part of our game and we want to be better than them in that, but right now they are ahead”.
As one can imagine, the ball will be in high demand when the teams meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday.
“The game on Saturday is going to be two styles that want to have the ball, so it’s going to be interesting how that whole thing plays out,” Berhalter added. “There is going to be value on the ball because I could imagine that when one team gets it, it’s going to be hard to get it back.”
Like Crew SC, New York City also tries to make the most of its wingers to create chances to score. The team leads the league in crosses per game with 22, a massive improvement from 2015 where it was dead last with only 15. Columbus is tied for fourth with 20 crosses on average.
A slight difference between the teams regards their formations, as NYCFC plays a 4-3-3, a slight variation from Crew SC’s 4-2-3-1, with No. 10 Maximiliano Morález sitting a little deeper on the field than Black & Gold playmaker Federico Higuain.
Josh Williams has the rare experience of playing for both sides. The center back has been outspoken about his joy of returning to Columbus this offseason because of the style of play and while he he sees the similarities, he admits there are some difference.
“They are a team that wants to keep the ball as well, but I don’t think they are playing exactly how we play,” he said. “I think (head coach) Patrick Vieira has them playing a very good style of soccer, they are dangerous at times and we have to respect that, but we are never going to change to anybody at home.”
A potential battle of possession kicks off Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium between two potential Eastern Conference playoff teams.