The Columbus Crew is set to take on New York City FC for the third time this season on Friday night in the Bronx. The Crew is looking to continue the team’s six-match unbeaten run and defeat NYCFC for the third time this season.
City, meanwhile, hopes to build off of a 5-0 dismantling of Orlando City SC last Saturday, the second time the Pigeons have won by that score at Yankee Stadium this year, and hope that the third time is the charm against the Black & Gold in 2021.
This match will have big implications in the Eastern Conference as these two sides are separated by just one point and a win could see either team climb up the congested standings. NYCFC will fancy their chances at home, but let’s take a look at what to expect from each team and how Columbus can win the team’s second straight road match.
New York City FC at a Glance:
Record: 7-2-5, 23 points
League Form: W-W-L-L-W
Leading Scorer: Jesús Medina (7)
Assist Leader: Maximiliano Morales (4)
Player to Watch: Jesus Medina
Medina may be in the middle of his breakout season in Major League Soccer. He has already tied his career-best with seven goals this season and shows no signs of stopping. The 24-year-old Paraguayan has always passed the “eye test” in terms of ability but has had trouble producing in his time in the league. However, so far in 2021 Medina has had no trouble finding the back with his seven finishes coming in 14 appearances for the Pigeons.
The attacker comfortably plays both on the flank or in the central attacking midfield for NYCFC and has become a key piece of the team’s attack this year. With the ability to break defensive lines either on the dribble or with his passing ability, Medina is a nightmare for opposing backlines. He excels when he is able to receive the ball with space in front of him and run at opposing defences.
On top of this, Medina has a flair for the dramatic in front of goal and is capable of scoring some world-class finishes. The Crew backline will be well aware of the trouble Medina can cause after his equalizer in the last meeting between these two and will watch him closely on Friday.
How New York City FC play:
Many fans and pundits around the league have suggested that City has one of the best and most enjoyable playing styles of anyone in the league thus far in 2021. NYCFC head coach Rony Deila has done a tremendous job implementing his game model and playing style in his first year.
Deila’s City has a big focus on possession in the team’s game model and looks to control the game by controlling the ball. In addition to the Pigeons' effectiveness in maintaining possession, NYCFC do an exceptional job of turning possession into chances in the attacking third. As a matter of fact, New York City ranks in the top vie in the league in shots on target per match, big chances created and goals per match. This suggests that City is one of the better teams in the league at turning possession into chances.
Another facet of NYCFC’s game that allows the team to keep possession so well is their recovery after losing possession. City is an exceptional counter-pressing side after losing the ball, meaning that they quickly apply pressure in an attempt to win the ball back before the opponent can establish possession. This concept is also found in the Crew’s game model and is one of the stronger parts of the Black & Gold’s game as well.
Since the Pigeons find themselves in possession so often, they rank well defensively, only allowing 1.1 goals per game so far. However, NYCFC has shown weaknesses at times when asked to defend for long periods of time. Additionally, as is common with possession-based teams, City has shown weakness defending the counter attack so far this season. With so many players in advanced positions looking to join the attack, there is often space behind the backline for the opposition to look for in transition.
How the Crew can win:
This match could be a huge moment in Columbus’ 2021 campaign. Sitting just two points out of second place in a tightly-contested East, three points could propel the Crew up the table and put the team in a good position moving forward.
Possession is a point of interest for both NYCFC and the Black & Gold, thus, the side that is able to hold the majority of possession will likely hold the upper hand in this match. Columbus has proven time and again over the last year and a half that the team is capable of defending for the majority of the match if needed. However, the Black & Gold are much better when they are able to control and dictate the game through their possession. In addition, City has, at times, looked suspect defensively when pinned in the team’s own half. If the Crew can maintain possession of the ball, it will allow playmakers like Lucas Zelarayan and Pedro Santos to do what they do best in the attacking third.
Another area where Columbus can hurt the Pigeons is in attacking transition. As discussed previously, NYCFC has been vulnerable to the counter attack thus far in 2021. Due to the numbers City push into the attack, there is plenty of space for the Black & Gold to exploit if they can quickly get in behind the New York City backline.
Head coach Caleb Porter will also welcome Luis Diaz from Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica this Friday. The winger will bring pace and ability to get in behind that the Crew could benefit from against NYCFC. The Black & Gold have been hesitant at times to bomb forward in offensive transition recently, but if they are able to do so, it could lead to prime opportunities on goal in this matchup.
One of the most improved areas of Columbus’ game from 2020 to 2021 is the team’s ability on attacking set pieces. Whether it’s a Zelarayan free kick or a Jonathan Mensah header, set pieces have been a great equalizer at times for the Crew this year. If Columbus can continue this success on attacking set pieces, it will certainly bode well for the entirety of 2021.
NYCFC is well aware of how devastating a Zelarayam free kick can be, having been scored on from a set piece by the Argentinean three times in two meetings. Look for the Black & Gold to continue to try and make use of their attacking set pieces on their journey for three points in the Big Apple.