Riding the high of last week’s epic penalty shootout win in Atlanta, Columbus Crew SC will try to replicate the magic on Tuesday against New York City FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Halloween night encounter between Crew SC and City at MAPFRE Stadium will be an intriguing one to say the least – and not just because of the Columbus’ current 11-game unbeaten run.
After pulling off the upset against Atlanta United in the knockout round, Crew SC hosts its first match since owner Anthony Precourt dropped a bombshell by confirming a possible move to San Antonio, TX in 2019 if he can’t get a new stadium for the club. To say Tuesday’s match will be an emotional one for anyone wearing yellow and black would be an understatement.
But Crew SC knows they can’t just ride into Tuesday’s match on pure emotion. Quite the opposite, in fact.
To slay another dragon, Columbus must channel the same defensive discipline that effectively silenced Atlanta’s prolific offense last week. While goalkeeper Zack Steffen played the match of his life to thwart the expansion side, the 10 men in front of him can’t leave it all on him against NYCFC.
One thing they’ll need to improve upon is their offense, which created plenty of chances in the knockout round, only to be denied by Brad Guzan and his posts. They must be more clinical. Federico Higuain must find Pedro Santos and Ola Kamara, who has to be deadlier in the box.
While Columbus has no problem taking their shots, on the other end of the pitch, anyone not named David Villa will need to up their game in order to put the hosts on their heels.
To that end, Khiry Shelton, Jack Harrison and Rodney Wallace cannot be gun shy in front of goal, where all too often an extra pass or touch is taken instead of pulling the trigger. Yes, the offense flows through the Spanish international, but he cannot do it alone.
Fortunately for NYCFC, their second-place finish afforded the opportunity to give extra rest to Ronald Mattarita and Maxime Chanot, both of whom missed time due to injuries down the stretch. Their absences clearly hampered the team’s form, which faltered (1-1-4) as the fall progressed.
No doubt Tuesday’s first leg will be appointment viewing for partisans and non-partisans alike. While the blue collar Crew and ritzy NYCFC have few things in common, their contrasting styles could make for another classic playoff clash.
Plus, with the backdrop of a potential move for Crew SC, the home crowd is sure to the energy and anticipation to a level never seen at MAPFRE Stadium.