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Designated Player-less New York City FC come into Columbus and leaves with a win

Well, that could have gone better.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

When Columbus Crew SC saw the team sheet for New York City FC was without Designated Players David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, did the team think Saturday night’s game was over before it started?

Fans of the Black & Gold would like to think not, but for large stretches of a 3-2 defeat to NYCFC — the first of the year for Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium — it certainly felt that way.

It didn’t take long for City to get on the board as Crew SC once again struggled early in a match.

Just beyond the seven minute mark, Columbus left back Jukka Raitala hit a bad pass near midfield that went right to NYCFC’s Alexander Ring. He quickly found the only one of three City DPs playing, Maxi Moralez. A run towards goal was not picked up and the midfielder split the Black & Gold back line to find Jack Harrison for the chip finish.

Crew SC began to wake up after going down 1-0 and the chances started to come.

Forward Ola Kamara nearly pulled the game level in the 25th minute when he slid in attempt to tap home a low, dangerous Justin Meram cross. It was not to be though as the ball was just out of his reach.

Four minutes later, it was again a ball from the left that finally found pay dirt. A quick switch of play saw Meram spring Raitala down the left wing. The defender served in a cross that found the trailing run of Federico Higuain and the half volley finish caused the 17,336 at MAPFRE Stadium to erupt.

The two sides went to the halftime break level at one, but it didn’t take Columbus long in the second half to break the deadlock.

Five minutes into the second stanza, Ethan Finlay’s pressure on a pass out of the penalty box by Sean Johnson led to a turnover. Finlay’s cross was deftly left by Higuain for Kamara who easily rifled the ball into the net for the lead.

Fifteen minutes of New York City domination later and things were tied once again. This time, it was a cross from former Crew SC defender Ben Sweat that was met by Yangel Herrera’s head and beat Steffen.

Despite taking a lead on the road, City did not back off. The Blues continued to attack and were rewarded with the lead.

Harrison Afful played a poor pass square across the field putting Nicolai Naess immediately under pressure. The center back couldn’t hold on and Herrera tapped to Harrison for the finish.

Columbus pushed numbers forward and head coach Gregg Berhalter introduced attacking substitutions — including the debut of winger Kekuta Manneh — but the leveling strike was not there for the Black & Gold who left with nothing in a match that once looked so promising.

No big money, no problems

As mentioned above, New York City played this game without its stop two players — at least on the salary sheet — and didn’t seem to miss a beat. The Black & Gold never seemed to figure out how to handle a side they didn’t prepare for, which is a bit concerning.

This team has demonstrated the ability to make adjustments during matches this season, but only adjusted negatively this week. Yangel Herrera and Maxi Moralez ran the central midfield in the absence of Pirlo and Sean Okoli did enough to keep the Columbus center backs honest throughout the match.

Wingback struggles

Jukka Raitala has been a good addition for Crew SC this year and Harrison Afful brings a spark to the right side, but neither player were at their best in the defeat.

Raitala struggled mightily with second-year pro Jack Harrison, who ended the night with two goals. He also had the poor giveaway near midfield that led to the first Harrison goal.

Speaking of poor giveaways, Afful’s pass to a marked Nicolai Naess in the middle of the second half was something you don’t expect from a professional player. While it didn’t cost the team the game, one point certainly would have tasted better than zero.

Comes back to bite you

Left back Ben Sweat was Gregg Berhalter’s first ever MLS SuperDraft pick after he was hired by the Black & Gold in 2014. He made no appearances for Columbus before spending two years with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Sweat reemerged at the MLS level when he earned a contract with NYCFC in the preseason and made his debut against his former side on Saturday night.

After some early struggles against Ethan Finlay, Sweat settled into the match and provided the game-tying assist for City.

Getting bit by one of your own, that one’s going to sting for a bit.

Big picture

MLS teams don’t go undefeated at home and losses will happen. The fact that this one occurred to a team that appeared ripe for the picking pregame is disheartening for Crew SC.

At the time of publication, the Black & Gold are in a tie for third in the Eastern Conference with 13 points. This is not bad, but 16 points seemed within the grasp just three hours ago.

What’s next?

This match marked the first of three straight at home against Eastern Conference opposition for Crew SC. The Black & Gold will be back at MAPFRE Stadium next Saturday against the New England Revolution.

The Revs have only nine points on the season and this seems like a good rebound game for Columbus. Then again, so did this week’s matchup with NYCFC.