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Massive Scouting Report: Eastern Conference semifinal leg one

Both teams have met twice this season, but who comes out swinging in the first leg?

Ralph Schudel

It’s been a whirlwind 72 hours for Columbus Crew SC, but head coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff have hit the ground running to prepare for Sunday’s match with New York Red Bulls. Crew SC had little time to celebrate Thursday’s thrilling victory over D.C. United, because the Supporters’ Shield winners were lurking around the corner and are in Central Ohio ahead of Sunday’s clash.

No doubt, New York joyously watched the Black & Gold play 120 grueling minutes against D.C. and no doubt are licking their chops for this match against a fatigued Crew SC squad. These teams met twice during the regular season, but the next two matches will determine whose season continues and who goes home.

Last time they met

The teams first met back in June underneath the scorching summer sun and split the points. Gyasi Zardes gave the home side the lead in the first half, but Alex Muyl equalized in the 57th minute off a set piece opportunity. The teams reunited again in July with Crew SC claiming a strong 3-2 victory at Red Bull Arena, albeit against a undermanned New York team that didn’t play most of their starters.

Things to remember

Like New York City FC, the Red Bulls encountered a midseason coaching change as Jesse Marsch found his way to the Bundesliga. Chris Armas plays similarly to Marsch, but chooses to use his fullbacks with greater width.

Expect Kamar Lawrence and Michael Murillo to push high up the field and get service into the penalty box for Bradley Wright-Phillips. New York doesn’t convert often on first chance opportunities, but are very good about following their shots and looking to score off of rebounds. Considering Zack Steffen’s troubles handling the ball on Thursday, this could be something to watch for.

How Crew SC win

One thing that was noticeably lacking on Thursday night was a lack of dynamic movement towards goal from Crew SC. The Black & Gold could have scored on two or three occurrences throughout the match had someone made a late run towards goal. Columbus must remain persistent, but not overcommit numbers forward and leave themselves susceptible to the counter attack.

Expect the Columbus center back tandem (presumably Gaston Sauro and Jonathan Mensah) to play physical against the Red Bulls, looking to foul the attackers and disrupt their offensive flow.

Steffen needs to take control of his penalty box and not attempt to catch a ball in the penalty area, unless he is 100 percent sure he is going to come down with it. Otherwise, it would behoove him just punch it away and allow the New York attack a chance to recycle.

Don’t expect a lot to happen on Sunday afternoon. With Crew SC on extremely short rest, it’s likely we seem them pack it in and play for a tie. This will set up a thrilling winner-take-all match in Harrison, New Jersey next Sunday.