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Massive Scouting Report: Empire State of Mind

Hoping for a better result, Columbus square off with another New York team this week.

MLS: D.C. United at New York City FC
At 35, David Villa continues to perform at a high level for New York City FC
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Columbus Crew SC had a forgettable performance against the New York Red Bulls. However, it’s a new week and they are presented with a chance to rebound against New York City FC. Unfortunately, Columbus will be without Artur. The young midfielder exited last week’s match with a broken wrist and the team reported that he had successful surgery Monday and was recovering. He is expected to miss at least Crew SC’s next three matches.

The injury bug also claimed Homegrown center-back Alex Crognale who hurt himself on an awkward challenge midway through the first half. He had limited participation in training this week and remains uncertain if he will be featured in the 18-man gameday roster this weekend.

The Black & Gold don’t have time to lick their wounds as the star-studded NYCFC make their way to MAPFRE Stadium this Saturday. New York is coming off a loss this weekend to Orlando City and like Columbus, are hungry to rebound. Prolific playmaker David Villa continued his defense of his Golden Boot by notching his fifth goal of the season.

NYCFC (3-1-3) are a team full of star power. Let’s take a look at who to keep an eye on come Saturday night:

El Guaje

Villa earned the nickname when he was growing up because he frequently played against older competition. The 2016 MLS Golden Boot winner still plays like he has something to prove every time he steps on the pitch. He plays with great tenacity and tremendous grit. MLS and City have benefitted from having such a great ambassador of the game.

The striker has collected five goals so far this campaign and when he isn’t scoring, he is pestering the opposition. If Villa doesn’t have the ball, he opens up space for fellow forwards Tommy McNamara and Jack Harrison.

Both McNamara and Harrison can be deadly in their own right. They serve mainly as a distraction to divert the attention away from Villa. When he is freed up, the ball is quickly played back to him and a scoring chance is generated.

Since New York City play a heavy possession based brand of soccer Mohammed Abu and Wil Trapp will be called upon to occupy the passing lanes and cut off any service to David Villa. It will be imperative for them to shield the center backs from the potent NYCFC attack.

Jack Harrison

After missing a significant amount of time in 2016, it appears we are learning more about who Jack Harrison is as a player in MLS. At just 20 years old, Harrison looks poised to accomplish big things in this league. Having the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Villa serving as mentors doesn’t hurt the cause either.

Harrison is a gifted midfielder who is left-footed but plays on the right-hand side. Don’t be fooled as he is gifted with both feet. He possesses the ability to get a weighted through ball passed the defense and into an attacking player like Villa or Rodney Wallace. He also possesses an innate ability to make a play in just about any situation.

Alexander Ring & Andrea Pirlo

An entire section can be dedicated to Andrea Pirlo and his accomplishments. However, his recent play hasn’t warranted it. He has been subbed off in five of his last seven appearances and struggled on defense even picking up an uncharacteristic yellow card last week. It seems Patrick Viera has made adjustments to deal with Pirlo’s decline in performance allowing Alexander Ring to become more of a threat.

Ring and Pirlo function well in the midfield for NYCFC and have a symbiotic relationship. Pirlo serves as a mentor for Ring and their relationship off the field is quite apparent. Since Pirlo presents a credible threat, the defense becomes preoccupied with him and this frees up space for Ring to work.

In the match with Orlando City last week, the Lions defense defended Pirlo and left Ring free at the top of the box allowing him to take shots at will. When Ring was covered he was able to lay the ball off to Pirlo, who then created opportunities for the forwards who crashed towards the box.

Ethan White

He is an exciting and dynamic prospect for New York City. One thing that stands out is his ability to get crosses into the box under pressure. Much like Crew SC’s Harrison Afful, White looks to streak down the right side of the pitch and will overlap with Jack Harrison. He also possesses the capability to track back quickly and be in proper defensive position in no time at all.

Sean Johnson

MLS: D.C. United at New York City FC
Sean Johnson has enjoyed success this season with New York since making the move from Chicago in the offseason.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson is experiencing a renaissance since his days in Bridgeview. In his first season with City, Johnson is demonstrating better decision-making and increased command of the penalty area. He is still susceptible to an occasional mental lapse, but under Viera’s watchful eye Johnson has enjoyed more positive results.

Some were skeptical of the move, but a change of scenery has done good for the 27-year-old keeper.

Rodney Wallace

Wallace has enjoyed a great first season back in MLS, splitting time on the wing with Tommy McNamara. Wallace has scored twice and has one assist to his credit in 2017 but he is being asked to play a new role.

Due to an injury to Ronald Matarrita, Wallace was forced into a left-back role for NYCFC. He struggled mightily against Orlando City’s Carlos Rivas and was out-muscled numerous times against Cyle Larin.

Viera had a conversation with Wallace prior to last week’s match saying, “Make sure you defend first.” It remains to be seen if Wallace will play against Columbus on Saturday given his poor form against Orlando.

How Crew SC Win

Simply put, go after Wallace. As much as possible. The makeshift left back struggled against Orlando last week and matched up against a gifted striker like Ola Kamara, he could be looking at another long day against Crew SC. It was especially noticeable when attacking players had pace. Wallace would be able to run them down, but struggle with winning possession back for New York City. Although Wallace is a gifted attacker, his defensive skills leave much to be desired. This is where players like Ethan Finlay, Niko Hansen or Kekuta Manneh could thrive.

Look for Afful to be an asset on the Crew SC attack down the right side. Afful will look to mix it up between making overlapping runs and tucking inside to assist the midfielders.

New York City play a style that is very similar to that of the Black & Gold and because of that, are susceptible to conceding goals. In the seven games played this season, NYCFC have conceded seven goals. They are front-loaded with star power but the defense is a bit suspect and lacking depth.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

When matched up against elite competition, Federico Higuain seems to take his performance into another gear. The matchup with Andrea Pirlo will be one to watch Saturday night as each maestro will look to pull the strings for their respective team.

Whichever midfield has the better game is likely the one whose side will come out on top.