The 2020 Major League Soccer regular season continues on Monday, as Columbus Crew SC travels to take on New York City FC at Red Bull Arena (Yankees Stadium is not currently available due to the MLB season). This will be the second time the two clubs have met on the field this season, having played at MAPFRE Stadium on the first matchday back in March. The Crew won that game 1-0 thanks to a curler from Lucas Zelarayan (and a red card to NYCFC defender Maxime Chanot).
Since New York’s last meeting with the Crew, the Pigeons have struggled to find consistency. While the club did reach the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament, the team’s only convincing win came against Toronto FC in the Round of 16. Most recently, NYCFC lost 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls. So, here’s what to expect as the Crew take on the Cityzens.
New York City FC at a glance:
Regular Season Record: 1-5-0
Form: L-L-L-L-W-L (MLS is Back knockout results in bold)
Leading Scorer: Jesus Medina (3, including 2 in the MLS is Back knockout stage)
Assists Leader: Heber (2, including 1 in the MLS is Back knockout stage)
Player to watch: Jesus Medina
Normally it would be creative midfielder Maxi Moralez, but he did not feature in NYCFC’s loss to the Red Bulls and had limited playing time in the latter stages of MLS is Back. So instead, the player to watch is Paraguayan midfielder Jesus Medina. Medina has struggled at times since coming to NYCFC in 2018, but is still just 23 years old and seems to be taking on a bigger role on the field. The Paraguayan can be deployed as a winger or a playmaker in central midfield, the latter being where he has featured in most games this season. Medina has been one of the few productive offensive outlets for NYCFC this season, so expect a lot of the ball to be sent to him, especially if he starts in midfield.
How they play:
First-year head coach Ronny Deila took over a squad that finished first in the Eastern Conference last year and second in the Supporters’ Shield standings. But the club has struggled so far this season, winning only one regular season game through six matches. Despite the poor start, there are still good parts of this team, particularly in defense.
In 11 matches across all competitions this season, the NYCFC defense has only let in more than one goal on three occasions. The first came in mid-February against San Carlos in the CONCACAF Champions League in a match that ended 5-3. The two other times came at MLS is Back against the two tournament finalists, Orlando City and Portland Timbers. Both matches ended 3-1. While the club has only posted two shutouts, it is clear that the defense has been what has kept the team competitive in these close games. The most likely starters at center back are Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens, but it is possible that Deila will deploy either another center back or defensive midfielder to shore up the defense further, as he did with James Sands against the Red Bulls.
How the Crew win:
With the New York City offense struggling to score, the real key to the game for Columbus will be breaking down the opponent’s defense. In March, NYCFC was still able to hold the Crew to one goal, despite starting center back Maxime Chanot being sent off. If Lucas Zelarayan does not return to the lineup for this game, the Black & Gold will need to find other creative avenues to break through the City backline.
The Crew’s third goal against Chicago in the last match is a good example of what the team will need: well-placed passes combined with a team effort to get behind the opposing defense at just the right moments. This may be easiest for Columbus on the left side, as NYCFC right back Anton Tinnerholm tends to play higher up the field to assist the offense.
If Columbus remains patient and consistently works to break down the New York City backline, the Crew will have a good chance at another victory.