Since the Columbus Crew lost at Yankee Stadium 2-0 to New York City FC on May 14, both teams have gone through changes. City lost 2021 MLS Golden Boot winner Valentiń Castellanos, who left for a loan with Girona of Spain’s La Liga. On the other side, the Black & gold added Designated Player forward Cucho Hernández.
Heading into Saturday, the defending MLS Cup champions have a seven-match unbeaten run, even with the loss of Castellanos, but that doesn’t mean everything is great with New York City. To discuss how the Pidgeons have changed since May, Massive Report spoke with Oliver Strand of Hudson River Blue.
Massive Report: The big story surrounding NYCFC was the move of Castellanos to Europe on loan. City has responded with seven matches without a defeat, and only once not scored a goal in that stretch. Who’s the one to watch on the attack with Castellanos gone?
Hudson River Blue: That’s the Million Dollar Question. The NYCFC attack are balanced and lethal, and now all-Brazilian: Héber is a classic striker, a poacher who is clinical in front of goal, Talles Magno is one of the best dribblers in MLS but needs a little more time to find his shot, Thiago runs hard and finds the goal, and Gabriel Pereira has scored some key strikes from the left. That’s on paper.
Last week, NYCFC had one shot and zero on target — that was the worst offensive performance in club history. The toothless attack was more because of an anemic midfield, but it is concerning. Who knows which team will show up at Lower.com Field. Will it be the one that can score form the left, right, center, and inside the box? Or the one that can barely muster one shot?
MR: A concern from New York City’s last match was midfielder Maxi Moralez leaving in the first half due to injury. The Cityzens listed him as questionable heading into the weekend. What are you feeling about Moralez’s chances to play and if he doesn’t, who’s the next midfielder up to take his place? What’s NYCFC missing if he doesn’t take the field?
HRB: Maxi is entering the emeritus phase of his career. He can still pull the strings in stretches but he’s no longer expected to run the show. That’s increasingly falling to Santi Rodríguez, who is quick and technical. More concerning is the loss of Keaton Parks and what he brought to the attack. His nominal replacement is Homegrown Justin Haak, who made his first MLS start recently. Haak is good, and could become a franchise player, but we’re at the start of his learning curve. The midfield is in trouble to be honest. The strongest players are as good as any in MLS, but one injury or red card and it kinda falls apart.
MR: Columbus has the motivation of a last-second loss to CF Montreal midweek but has struggled at home. New York City is a strong team, but not as strong away from Yankee Stadium. What’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
HRB: NYCFC has always been known for their attack, for keeping possession and creating chances. This is the club of Taty Castellanos and David Villa, after all. That seems to be changing, and now this is the team that doesn’t leak goals.
NYCFC have 12 clean sheets out of 22 games played, and have allowed the second-fewest goals after Philadelphia. That’s a long way of saying that it will be hard for Columbus or any team to score against an NYCFC that held the New Jersey Red Bulls, Dallas, and Montréal scoreless on the road.
As for the score, look above at the answers to Question 1 and Question 2. I see this grinding to a 0-0 draw. I also see NYCFC grabbing a goal like they did against Dallas, and stealing a win. Could Lucas Zelarayán repeat his heroics from last year? Maybe. Ditto Cucho Hernández scoring, but both of those scenarios feel unlikely with a full-strength NYCFC defense that have allowed two goals in five games.
The Magic 8 Ball says it will be 0-0, but you can also see a 0-1 to the side.