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Crew 2 looks to remain top in East vs. New York City FC II in battle of competing styles

It will be a battle of the Black & Gold defense against NYCFC’s attack on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Columbus Crew 2

Columbus Crew 2 comes into Belson Stadium to take on New York City FC II on Sunday, leading the Eastern Conference in MLS NEXT Pro with 15 out of a possible 18 points so far in this debut season. This match will be the biggest test for Columbus’ backline, as the league’s best defense in the Crew will go up against MLS NEXT Pro’s best attack in NYCFC.

The Black & Gold come into this match on a five-game winning streak, losing only the opening game of the year and most recently destroying New England Revolution II last week 4-0 on the road. Last week’s victory saw Columbus’ attack in its best form of the season, with forward Noah Fuson leading the way with a brace. Captain and midfielder Marco Micaletto scored a goal and the ever-reliable Jacen Russell-Rowe scored his team-high fourth goal of the young campaign.

This was a breakout performance from Crew 2, something head coach Laurent Courtois was waiting for,

“They have the quality enough to score a few more goals,” he said before the game against New England. Surely the head coach saw the performance from the attack and knew that confidence in this side paid off.

With the offense playing the best it has all season, the defense will just need to maintain the steady play the group has achieved this season. Crew 2’s defense has been a rock this year, allowing a league-low three goals in six games played. Columbus has been able to maintain a clean sheet in four of the team’s matches due to stellar play from their backline and goalkeeping, leading the league in save percentage as well at 85.7 percent.

Despite the Black & Gold success, the Crew could run into NYCFC II at the wrong time as the club’s attack is finding its form, winning last week 4-1 against Toronto FC II. Scoring has not been any trouble for New York City this year, leading the MLS NEXT Pro in goals with 20 scored in just seven games. This goal output is led by the team scoring seven against Inter Miami II in the middle of April.

The City attack is led by forwards Marco Dias, a promising 20 year old with four goals on the season, as well as Jonathan Jimenez who has four goals himself on the year. Columbus’ fullback will have to be on their best form if they want a chance against New York City’s wide players.

However, just as Columbus could bring first-team players down for this game, so can NYCFC II, which is why Courtois reiterated that the focus remains internal and not so much on the opponent.

“It’s really hard to focus that much (on the opposition),” he said. “I’m really big on us because, at the end of the day, if they bring five, six first-team players down, then what?”

It is not just finishing that makes NYCFC II dangerous, it is how they set up. The Pidgeons have the most accurate forward passes in the attacking zone, leading to the most assists in the MLS NEXT Pro. The Black & Gold backline will need to maintain possession and keep the ball in their attacking half, as sitting back and defending for their lives will get the team nowhere in this matchup.

Crew 2 may come in with more motivation than before after watching the first team come up short against City Saturday night in a 2-0 defeat at Yankee Stadium. Crew 2 and NYCFC II kick off at 4 p.m. ET. All MLS NEXT Pro games can be streamed live on mlsnextpro.com.