Another week, another Columbus Crew SC opponent, another Crossing the Touchline.
This week, the Black & Gold welcome New York City FC to MAPFRE Stadium for an Eastern Conference battle. Crew SC currently sit on 13 points, tied for second in the East. NYCFC is three points back in a tie for sixth.
Questions for Hudson River Blue
Massive Report: I know there's been a lot of talk this year about what's next with Andrea Pirlo, but let's focus on right now. He's obviously 37, but what does he still offer NYCFC? Is he slowing down at all or have there been signs of regression?
Hudson River Blue: Short answer: He doesn't do enough for the team. Pirlo still has world-class vision and technical passing ability, but beyond that he is so immobile and ineffective defensively that for much of the game it feels like we can be a man down defending. I would be remiss to not mention his hair, which remains immaculate, but what he offers in ability offensively does not outweigh the liability he is to NYC in defense. A year ago, Pirlo was still contributing his play-making ability to our attack, but in his 37th year, the Maestro has regressed considerably.
With any response that starts with the "short answer" there is always the accompanying longer, more complex response. Pirlo is playing because he has to play. City Football Group is ponying up a substantial chunk of cash for him to play and the legend sells tickets and merchandise. From a pure footballing angle, he needs to make way for younger, more promising players like Yangel Herrera, and be used as a super-sub to provide stability to the midfield. However, with the money and the status at stake, this is not a pure football decision and that will hurt NYC this season.
All that said, I think NYC FC knows it has a Pirlo problem, and I don't expect him to be in the starting XI at the end of the season. It may not be a question of "if" anymore, but the "when" is still looming over New York as the team continues to drop points in winnable games.
MR: Talk to me about these wingers, Jack Harrison and Tommy McNamara. Neither are the big names of some of their teammates, but it seems to me they are crucial cogs in City's attack. What do they offer that maybe some outsiders don't see?
HRB: We need to rope Rodney Wallace into this conversation as well, as he has effectively taken Tommy's place as the first-choice left winger, with Tommy now coming off the bench to boost the attack. Mac has moved back into the XI since the injury Ronald Matarrita sustained in training, with Wallace playing a LWB role.
The three of them fit the mold of Patrick Vieira players - Aggressive, attack minded players with high work-rates. They have combined for 5 goals and 3 assists so far, and should have lots more production in them this year.
So far, Jack has been the standout. People who don't know the fourth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft really ought to learn quick, because he is becoming a stronger, more dangerous player with each game in MLS. Jack is truly at his best out wide taking players on 1v1, and he has the quality to finish or deliver the killer pass.
Wallace has also been more than we could have expected coming over from Portland. The Costa Rican international beat out Tommy and Khiry Shelton in training camp to claim the LW job, and has performed admirably in his time there, combining well with Ronald Matarrita. Mata's injury has forced Wallace into more of a defensive role, and he held up okay in his first action at that position last week. Meanwhile, Tommy is going to get a chance moving forward to playing starters' minutes, so I expect, as I have come to expect with him, that he seizes the opportunity and plays well.
MR: What impact has the addition of Sean Johnson made in goal? He's obviously a guy that many MLS fans are familiar with, but how is he fitting in with what Patrick Vieira wants done on the field?
HRB: Sean Johnson has been great so far in goal for us, marshaling our defense and solidifying our defending of set pieces. The latter has been the most glaring value-add that has come since his arrival. Previously, this was a huge source of frustration for the team watching Josh Saunders play. Saunders is an excellent shot stopper, but his inability to read aerial balls and his somewhat diminutive stature made any set piece an adventure. Johnson has effectively eliminated this concern for the 2017 team.
Johnson is also adapting well to Vieira's system in goal. Vieira looks to always play out the back, requiring his teams to have a keeper who is confident and skilled on the ball. Johnson is no Manuel Neuer, but he is confident and he has the good sense to get rid of the ball if there is too much pressure. As he continues to play move games in Vieira's system, I imagine his comfort level will continue to improve.
To read Massive Report’s answers to Hudson River Blue’s questions, check out their “3 Columbus Crew Questions”