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Massive Scouting Report: New York City FC

What the Black & Gold face on Saturday night.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After an exhilarating and slightly confusing match last weekend against the New England Revolution, the Columbus Crew return to action this Saturday. This time the Crew will face reigning MLS Cup champions New York City FC, once again on the road.

NYCFC is on a tear of six straight unbeaten games and looks every bit capable of repeating as champs in 2022. Here’s what to expect in this matchup.

New York City FC at a Glance:

Record: 4-2-3, 14 points

League Form: D-W-W-W-L

Leading Scorer: Valentin Castellanos (5)

Assist Leader: Talles Magno (4)

Player to Watch: Valentin Castellanos

Castellanos is now a household name in MLS circles and seems to be the prime candidate for a summer move to a top European league. In the meantime, Castellanos will look to continue to terrorize MLS defenses with his long-distance shooting ability, passing in the final third and 1 v. 1 attacking ability.

The 23-year-old Argentine is one of the brightest stars in the MLS and will need to be the focus of the Black & Gold’s defense on Saturday if they’re going to leave with all three points.

How New York City FC plays:

Head coach Ronny Deila has quickly established himself as one of the best coaches in MLS. Similar to Castellanos, Deila himself is often surrounded by rumors of upcoming summer departures. Despite that, NYCFC has continued to be successful, thanks in large part to their tactical setup and strategies.

City has a huge focus on possession and creating numerical advantages throughout the field. In addition to this, the Pidegos flood defenders to the ball upon losing possession in order to maintain dominance of the possession battle. City is also very good in attacking transition and looks to utilize the counterattack whenever possible.

Defensively, NYCFC can both press high and defend in a lower block. This has allowed the team to change game to game based on the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses in attack. The Cityzens’ ability in these areas makes them incredibly hard to play against and has made them one of the best-looking teams so far in the 2022 campaign.

How the Crew can win:

Playing New York City anywhere is tough, let alone in the not-so-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. Crew fans everywhere are still sweating at the thought of the team's most recent visit to the Big Apple, in which the Columbus was completely dismantled and suffered a 4-1 defeat.

In order to avoid a similar result, Porter has spoken extensively about the importance of staying compact defensively in his side’s recent three-match unbeaten run. The same will be true for the Black & Gold this Saturday against the Pigeons. If the Crew is able to stay compact and limit the space between the team’s defensive lines, it will limit the space that NYCFC’s talented attacking players have to operate in.

This may actually be easier for Columbus to do in this match thanks to the small size of the pitch at Yankee Stadium. If the Black & Gold can stay compact and limit City’s attacking chances, they will not only frustrate the home side’s attack, but also create their own chances on the counter attack as New York City pushes numbers forward. If the Crew is able to defend in a mid-block and limit the number of passes NYCFC can make between defensive lines, it will likely lead to some success on Saturday.

Since Columbus will likely defend in a compact, lower defensive block, the Black & Gold needs to be careful to not get pinned in their own half. City has the to suffocate teams in their own half before eventually punishing their opponents. The Crew will need to do an excellent job of moving the ball up into their middle in attacking thirds upon winning the ball back. A huge part of this will be the striker’s and wingers’ ability to hold the ball up and allow teammates to move up the field. If these players can successfully control a pass to their feet, and then connect another pass to a player coming to support them, it will allow the Black & Gold to consistently move the ball up the field .

Lastly, Columbus needs to do a good job of keeping possession once the team progresses to the final third. Since the Black & Gold are likely going to defend in a lower block, they will have a harder time moving the ball into the attacking third. When the Crew does get the ball into the attacking third, the team needs to work hard to keep possession of the ball. Sometimes when teams defend in a low block, the instinct is to constantly be tempted by the space to attack when they win the ball.

While the Black & Gold should certainly look to counter attack when possible, doing so at the wrong times could lead to turnovers that force Columbus to defend again. In addition, if the Crew is able to apply pressure to the City defense through possession in the final third, NYCFC may leak some goals. The defending champions have shown a tendency to give up goals to teams who are able to keep possession and force them to defend for long stretches at a time. If the Crew can do that, the team may reap the rewards in front of goal.