NYCFC Has Nothing Left to Lose After First Leg Disaster

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cup logoNew York City FC has nothing left to lose.

Timid and sloppy, NYCFC left chances to wrestle control of the Major League Soccer‘s Eastern Conference semifinal in the first half of Tuesday night’s first leg. They were afloat five minutes into the second half only trailing the Columbus Crew, 1-0. But then Alex Callens raised his arm into Justin Meram‘s face while running toward a corner kick. Through video review, Referee Ismail Elfath issued Callens a red card. The house of cards tumbled thereafter.

Alex Ring was asked to plug too many holes all night yet he caused a most costly rupture by getting caught in possession in midfield leading to a 4v2 break for the Crew. Federico Higuaín found Artur who waited for the City defense and Sean Johnson to lose their positioning before finishing with ease. Johnson kept goal timidly the entire evening looking nothing like the goalkeeper he was in the regular season. There was no moment where that was evident more than on the Crew’s third goal as Meram’s shot bounced underneath him and in.

David Villa gave the Pigeons a fleeting moment of hope that may ultimately just be a footnote with a poacher’s goal on 78 minutes but the leaky dam that Ring had tried to plug was continuing to fail. Yangel Herrera had grown fatigued, Maxi Moralez moved to left midfield and both fullbacks committed themselves almost exclusively toward supporting the attack. The tired legs and tired minds sought a second away goal but were too exhausted to prevent Harrison Afful from dribbling through them all before beating Johnson in second half stoppage time.

Coach Patrick Vieira kicked a water bottle after Afful’s goal. His team just collapsed having been pushed to their limit and found wanting.

There will be something glorious about the second leg, scheduled for Sunday after 5 p.m. in Yankee Stadium. NYCFC just have no fucks left to give. Vieira needs to field a side that scores three and concedes zero while knowing his stalwart center back will be suspended. He will be the surgeon on a team that may just be dead on arrival.

In that sense, throwing caution to the wind will inspire Vieira to make the most attack-minded lineup he can. Though City has started in a 4-3-3 for the entire year, losing Callens could mean a chance to switch to a three-man backline. It’s easy to do with Ben Sweat and Ethan White as options to flank Frederic Brillant and it would afford the opportunity for Ronald Matarrita to start on the left side and perhaps, Jonathan Lewis as well.

As opposed to last year, Vieira is not to blame for tonight’s disaster yet blame will saddle itself upon him. His goalkeeper let him down, his wingers let him down and fate let him down. His team has nothing to lose now. He may have not much to lose either, not like NYCFC and CFG’s brass would be asinine enough to fire their prodigal son.

Can he pull something out of the hat on Sunday? Probably not, but he will try and it will be glorious nonetheless.