Saturday, the last two MLS Cup winners face off at Yankee Stadium. The Columbus Crew travel to take on New York City FC and each enters the match on an undefeated run, with three and four matches unbeaten respectively.
To get more details on New York City’s current form and offseason changes, Massive Report spoke with Oliver Strand, who helps cover City for Hudson River Blue, our SB Nation sister site.
Massive Report: NYCFC started the season losing three of the first five games but now is on a four-match undefeated streak where the team has scored 14 goals in those matches. Do you think City is prepared to overcome a post-MLS Cup dip? Why or why not?
Hudson River Blue: It was a rough start to the season. The MLS Cup was decided on Dec. 11, which was a little on the late side; preseason began in late January, which was unusually early. Then there was that Champions League business, which meant playing in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and that Yankee Soccer Stadium isn’t a CONCACAF-approved venue (can’t imagine why), which meant playing “home” games in Los Angeles, the middle of Connecticut, and Red Bull Arena. Add to that away games against the Galaxy and Whitecaps: You can’t blame logistics for NYCFC’s performances, but the team was basically on the road for the better part of two months.
In other words, I don’t think it was an MLS Cup dip as much as a Champions League headache, and once that ended the team returned to form.
MR: Departure-wise, NYCFC lost two role players with James Sands, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Jesus Medina in the offseason. Medina started his New York City career strong but dipped the last two seasons before coming on strong again during the MLS Cup run. How has the team adapted to these changes and was not retaining Medina a good call?
HRB: Losing Sands is a shame, and we feel it in our play - our holding mid situation still isn’t settled. Losing Tajouri-Shradi is also hard, but Thiago has stepped into the role of a hard-running attacking midfielder who can terrorize defenses and score - Thiago is incredible with the ball at his feet. Losing Medina is a funny one - he never delivered on the promise of a Designated Player, but he worked hard for the team and took a sideman role to forward Taty Castellanos that helped him win the golden boot. He was recently replaced by Gabriel Pereria, and he’s exceptional: A left-footed right-winger from Brazil, he fits seamlessly with the team, and has been a big part of this undefeated streak.
MR: What’s your prediction for Saturday’s match and where’s the ceiling for NYCFC in 2022? Is back-to-back MLS Cups a possibility?
HRB: Last question first: Yes, we could go back-to-back. We have arguably the best attack in MLS, a midfield that’s a few bonding weekends away from gelling as a unit, and a defense that needs to be battle-tested — if our defenders get healthy, and center-back Thiago Martins measures up to his scouting report, the defense will be forged and we will be measurably better than last year’s team.
As for the prediction? Yikes. NYCFC are on a strong run, but the team is still working out issues throughout the field. Our attack is brilliant, but it was shut down by Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake — if the already stingy Columbus defense bunkers down in the box they could hold us as well. NYCFC and Columbus are close to evenly matched historically. Columbus has a slight edge.
I see a hard-fought game that NYCFC will win 3-1. The scoreline will flatter us. Columbus will keep it close and prove to be a threat, but we’ll pull ahead then find that third goal before the final whistle. It’s hard to beat us in the Bronx.