Reigning MLS Cup champion New York City FC has shown its offensive firepower this season. The Columbus Crew were already well aware of what’s possible when NYCFC is at the top of its game.
The last time the Crew visited Yankee Stadium, they were dominated in a 4-1 loss on July 30, which began a six-game losing streak that ultimately sunk the Crew’s season and chance of making the playoffs.
“On their day, they can run you over,” Crew coach Caleb Porter said. “They can play through your pressure better than any team I’ve seen.”
Like all games in this four-game stretch before an extended break, this is a glimpse for the Crew to see how they stack up against the league’s best. NYCFC has been humming as of late with 14 goals in the past four games and holding opponents scoreless in two of the past three games.
What the Columbus Crew is thinking before Saturday’s game
Crew midfielder Artur said the message before training on Friday was why not go on the road and beat the defending champs.
“We want to play against good teams and (in) big games,” Artur said. “I think everybody should be excited to play this game because that’s why we play, that’s why we love the game.”
The Crew have won only three away games since the start of the 2020 season — excluding the MLS is Back Tournament in July 2020 — and haven’t won a road game this season. But they’ve lost just one of five road games and have clawed out a point with late goals against the New York Red Bulls in March and last week against the Revolution.
What has led to the Columbus Crew playing better on the road?
Porter said the credit belongs to the players having a better mentality on the road and executing better. He also hinted at a different approach with his staff to the game plan this season.
“I think on the road specifically we’ve just been very pragmatic defensively and really analyzed the opponent — like we always do, but a little bit more how to take them away versus how we’re going to execute in the attack,” Porter said. “I think we’ve done a good job. My staff are a big part of that.”
There was practically no hope the Crew attack could match that of NYCFC a few weeks ago, but lately the team has found success in front of goal. They’ve scored five goals and have built some confidence in scoring the first goal in the past two games. Doing that on the road, especially against good teams, is almost imperative.
“Always when we start the game, we want to score the first goal because we know we can manage better the tempo, the result, and the game,” Crew left back Pedro Santos said.
Why Yankee Stadium will pose a challenge to the Columbus Crew
The Crew have the advantage of star attacking player Lucas Zelarayan ready to start a game for the first time in four games, but the dimensions of Yankee Stadium make executing the preferred game plan more difficult.
The field is narrower than any other field in MLS, which pretty much takes away the ability of outside backs to get down the flanks, and defenses can close space more quickly. Porter also might have to take off a player who has been playing well.
To put in Zelarayan, Porter will have to take out one of Derrick Etienne Jr., who has a goal and two assists in the past two games, Miguel Berry, who scored last week at New England, James Igbekeme or Aidan Morris, who have added life to the midfield.
Whomever he chooses, Porter wasn’t shy is professing his belief in his team to get its first win on the road this season.
“I know we have the quality to get a result, three points,” he said. “You could just see it the last several days and feel it from them that they’re going to be up for it because they know this is a good test. They know they have good players, and I have a lot of very good players in that locker room.”
New York City FC
Record: 4-3-2, 14 pts., 6th in East
Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1):
Sean Johnson (goalkeeper), Chris Gloster (left back), Alexander Callens (center back), Thiago Martins (center back), Tayvon Gray (right back), Nicolas Acevedo (midfielder), Keaton Parks (midfielder), Talles Magno (left) winger), Maxi Morales (attacking midfielder), Santiago Rodriguez (right winger), Valentín Castellanos (forward).
Player to watch: Valentín Castellanos is one of the best strikers in MLS. He scored 19 goals with eight assists and scored three goals in the playoffs. This year he has five goals and one assists in eight games. He did not dress for last week’s 0-0 draw against Sporting Kansas City or the midweek game in the US Open Cup, but he is not listed on the injury report.
Record: 3-3-4, 13 pts., 9th in East
Projected Starting XI (4-3-3):
Eloy Room (goalkeeper), Pedro Santos (left back), Josh Williams (center back), Jonathan Mensah (center back), Marlon Hairston (right back), Darlington Nagbe (midfielder), Artur (midfielder), James Igbekeme (midfielder) , Lucas Zelarayan (left winger), Derrick Etienne Jr. (right winger), Miguel Berry (forward).
What to watch: The most intriguing storyline entering the match is whom Caleb Porter will take out of the starting lineup to put in Lucas Zelarayan, and what formation will he use. If Zelarayan starts on the left side, it’ll be interesting to see if he can be as effective as he normally is in the center of the field.
NYCFC 1, Columbus 0: The Crew struggled to create scoring chances last season against NYCFC, despite two wins in three games. While this team has been better in the attack the past two games, the narrow field will force the Crew to be technical with little passes in the center of the field. NYCFC is playing too well right now to be stunned at home.