NYCFC’s second half rally clinches second seed

Oct 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA;  New York City FC midfielder Frank Lampard (8) celebrates with teammates after his goal during the second half against the Columbus Crew at Yankee Stadium. New York City FC won 4-1.  Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

The Bronx– Just as Patrick Vieira’s experiment seemed to fail and New York City FC would fall into third place, the kids came to save the day.

Jack Harrison finished a deflected rebound from a returning Frank Lampard and set up Khiry Shelton two minutes later to turn a disastrous draw into a 4–1 win against Columbus Crew SC Sunday afternoon in Yankee Stadium.

It is the first time NYCFC have defeated Crew SC and the result earns New York a bye-week, clinching a berth in the Eastern Conference Semifinal.

“It was a really good team performance,” head coach Patrick Vieira said. “We needed a big performance to win the game because Columbus is one of the best teams in the league because of the way they play and we needed to perform well to win that game.”

The Pigeons took the lead moments before halftime through Steven Mendoza’s volley after what had been an even, end-to-end first half between two teams who played deliberately in possession. Eirik Johansen received his first start in goal and denied Hector Jimenez’s effort at the back post early on.

Although City were comfortable in possession, they struggled to create chances. Mendoza’s goal from a David Villa cross was City’s first shot on target.

“I told the guys [before the game] to remember running during the preseason in Florida,” Villa said. “We wanted to play 90 minutes today for those runs and the motivation today was easy and every player was amazing today. Not only the eleven but all the players on the team was amazing.”

Villa nearly doubled City’s advantage moments into the second half with a chip that went off the inside of both posts. After the near-miss, Crew SC collected themselves and drove play in the attacking end. Their persistence would be rewarded in the 59th minute when Justin Meram seized on a turnover and crossed for Ola Kamara to head home.

Columbus continued to pin NYCFC in their own end, preventing their efforts to play their way from the back. With the midfield struggling to support the attack nor the defense, Vieira subbed off Andrea Pirlo for Frank Lampard and introduced Shelton for Mendoza. Vieira said that he knew Toronto FC had taken a lead in their game and switched to a 4-3-3 which promptly led to the deciding goals.

“We needed to do something to go for it,” Vieira said. “I knew that Toronto was winning their game and we had nothing to lose so I decided to make a few changes. It worked, we were more aggressive on that side and then when we scored the third goal, I decided to go to five in the back with Jason [Hernandez] coming in to make the defense stronger.”

Shelton was able to drive City’s attack down the right wing once he came on and created the second goal with an inside pass to Villa. Villa slipped the ball to Lampard whose shot was blocked but fell to Harrison at the back post and the rookie made no mistake. City nearly conceded an immediate equalizer but Frédéric Brillant made a composed clearance from inside his six-yard box finding Andoni Iraola in midfield. Iraola and Lampard played a one-two then found Harrison upfield. Harrison split the defense with a pass to Shelton who converted the breakaway. City covered the length of the field in eight touches.

“We had nothing to lose, we knew we needed a goal,” Shelton said. “[Vieira] told me to press on and try to get a goal. That was my objective from the first minute I stepped on the field.”

NYCFC will play either Toronto FC or the winner of the D.C. United-Montreal Impact knockout round. They will be on the road for the first leg but will return to Yankee Stadium on Nov. 6 to host the second leg.