Lower.Com Field is ready for its second match as the Columbus Crew returns to action against New York City FC on Saturday night. This match will have an impact on the Eastern Conference as both teams sit on 17 points in the standings.
The Black & Gold’s roster is truly depleted, as players like Gyasi Zardes, Kevin Molina, Luis Diaz and Liam Fraser are on international duty with their respective countries at the Gold Cup. In addition, the Crew’s injury list continues to grow as Vito Wormgor will miss this contest. On top of this, Harrison Afful will be unavailable as he serves his red card suspension from the most recent Hell is Real Derby. Because of this, Columbus will have their work cut out for them if they are to take three points in this match.
Let’s look at what we can expect from NYCFC and how the Crew can win its first match in the team’s new home.
New York City FC at a Glance:
Record: 5-2-4, 17 points
League Form: L-W-W-L-W
Leading Scorer: Jesús Medina (5)
Assist Leader: Maximiliano Morales (3)
Player to Watch: Maximiliano Morales
Maxi Morales has become a key figure in the City side since he joined the Pigeons in 2017. Despite his small stature (5-foot-2), Morales is a menacing attacking figure for his opponents.
Morales specializes in creating attacking opportunities for his side in the offensive third. Known for his passing range and ability to wiggle out of the tightest of spaces, Morales is one of the more difficult players to defend in the league. He will likely look to operate in the space between the Columbus backline and midfielders.
Due to the Crew’s lack of available players in both of those positions, he could have plenty of room to work on Saturday. However, if the Black & Gold can limit his touches on the ball and space to attack, they will take a huge piece out of the City attack.
How New York City FC play:
Ronny Deila has quickly established a playing style and identity in his first year as the head coach in the Big Apple. New York City has an incredibly similar playing style to the Crew. NYCFC has a huge focus on possession and creating numerical advantages throughout the field.
In addition to this, the Pigeons will flood defenders to the ball upon losing possession in order to maintain dominance of the possession battle. NYCFC is also very good in attacking transition and will look to attack quickly whenever possible. These traits make City incredibly hard to play against and will no doubt be similar to how Columbus looks to play on Saturday.
One area of intrigue, however, is the struggles that New York City has had defensively at times this season. While not necessarily leaking goals, NYCFC has not been terribly convincing when asked to defend for long periods of time. This is no doubt a weakness and something the Black & Gold can exploit on Saturday. Whoever is able to dominate the shared areas of interest will likely take home all three points.
How the Crew can win:
Columbus has tied three matches in a row and come from behind in two of those three games. While come-from-behind points are nothing to dismiss, head coach Caleb Porter and his team will look to take a more sustainable approach to taking three points on Saturday. Let’s take a look at what the Crew can do to put a stamp on the game in this matchup.
Most importantly, Columbus needs to have a positive start to the game. In two consecutive matches, the Black & Gold have gone down 2-0 before halftime and gave up a goal in just 28 seconds against FC Cincinnati last Friday. While the Crew has done incredibly well to come back from these deficits, it is not a recipe for success to be consistently chasing games.
While both Porter and the players feel confident that they have adequately fixed this issue, there will still be an emphasis on the first 30 or so minutes of this match. If the Black & Gold can avoid conceding, or even take the league early, it would do the team a world of good in this match.
As mentioned previously, the team that dominates some of the shared areas of interest will take a huge leg up in this match. More specifically, the team that dominated possession will gain a significant advantage over its opponent. This is especially relevant as neither the Crew nor NYCFC have proven that they can defend for long periods of time in games. Thus, whichever team can dominate possession and ask questions of the opponents defending will no doubt create opportunities on goal. This would also help the Black & Gold ease into the game and allow some of the players who haven’t had a ton of minutes this season to gain confidence during the match.
Lastly, the Crew needs to take advantage of their attacking set pieces. No Columbus fan need reminding of the incredible effort from Lucas Zelarayan that saw the Black & Gold steal thre points from New York City in the previous matchup. However, the Black & Gold can use set pieces to their advantage by creating chances in these moments. Since the Crew is forced to field a team that isn’t at full strength, set pieces could provide a valuable route to goals that they could have a hard time finding otherwise.
Set pieces have long been a place the Black & Gold have struggled under Porter, but if they find ways to be dangerous on Saturday, it could just steal them a goal that will no doubt be valuable in this match.