Playoff Preview: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by MARK FISHKIN

All that stands between the New York Red Bulls and an MLS Cup match at Red Bull Arena is a talented Columbus Crew side that needed extra time to best Didier Drogba and Montreal.

Playing an attractive attacking style not unlike New York’s, the Crew got a goal from their star, Kei Kamara, in the extra period to sink the Impact and set up a “one versus two” match-up for a trip to MLS Cup. In what should be a frigid but bursting Mapfre Stadium, can the Red Bulls steal a goal or two, setting up a favorable home leg next week?


Match Information:

Sunday, November 22nd at Mapfre Stadium, 5:00p ET kickoff

TV/Streaming: ESPN & ESPN Deportes/Watch ESPN

Audio: http://www.newyorkredbulls.com/matchday/radio

Referee: Allen Chapman

2015 Regular Season Records, GF/GA, Division and League Position, Recent Form:

Columbus: 53 points from 34 matches, 58 GF/53 GA, 2nd in the East, t-3rd in MLS, LWWLW

New York: 60 points from 34 matches, 62 GF/43 GA, 1st in the East, 1st in MLS, LWWWW

2015 Playoff Records:

Columbus d. Montreal 4-3 on aggregate: L 1-2 at Saputo, W 3-1 at Mapfre after extra time

New York d. DC United 2-0 on aggregate: W 1-0 at RFK, W 1-0 at Red Bull Arena

2015 Season Series: (NY won 2-1-0)

March 28th at Mapfre:                   CLB 1-2 NY (Tchani 58’; BWP 49’ Grella ’67)

July 4th at Mapfre:                          CLB 2-1 NY (Finlay 33’, 74’; Abang 8’)

October 3rd at Red Bull Arena:    NY 2-1 CLB (Sam 12’, BWP 21’; Meram 9’)

Suspensions/Yellow Cards

Columbus: Suspended: D Sauro. Suspended with 1 YC: D Afful

New York: Suspended: None. Suspended with 1 YC: D Miazga, D Zubar, M Kljestan, F B. Wright-Phillips


Columbus’ front line vs. the Red Bulls’ defense

Kei Kamara vs. Kemar Lawrence, Young Matt Miazga, Ronald Zubar, and Sal Zizzo (and Luis Robles)

If not for Sebastian Giovinco, Kamara (22G/8A) would have not only walked away with the scoring title, but also MVP of the league.  The 6’ 3” striker from Sierra Leone did everything this season — that is, except score against New York.  In 269 combined minutes against the Red Bulls, Kamara unleashed 12 shots at Luis Robles, but only four were on target, and none found the net. If the Crew are going to get to their first MLS Cup since 2008, Columbus’ star will have to produce.  Trying to blank Kamara are the newly USMNT-capped Matt Miazga (24 GP, 1G/1A) and Ronald Zubar (12GP, 1G). The New York centerbacks did a great job managing DC’s attack, but Kamara’s leaping ability and deadly head will be a much tougher test.  Lawrence (23GP, 1G/4A) has returned after playing 90 minutes at Haiti for Jamaica on Tuesday.  Zizzo continues (22GP, 2A) his strong play after switching to right back. With Zizzo on the back line, New York is 4-1 with five goals allowed in those matches.  MLS Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Luis Robles, on a two-match shutout streak, has added the most-ever playoff matches started (11) for New York to his list of club superlatives.  Robles was unable to shutout Columbus in three tries this season. Jack McInerney (5G/2A) may enter the match late to spell Kamara or one of the Crew midfielders.

Advantage: Columbus


New York’s attack vs. the Crew defense:
Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Waylon Francis, Tyson Wahl, Michael Parkhurst, Harrison Afful (and Steve Clark)

With an injury-time tap-in, Bradley Wright-Phillips killed off DC United at home. BWP did have a goal in the March match in Columbus this season, and has scored four times against the Crew in the last six tilts between the clubs. DC did a fine job limiting BWP’s chances in the semifinal series, but Columbus conceded eight more goals than DC during the regular season.  The Crew will have to survive in leg one without the suspended centerback Gaston Sauro. The Argentine played only four times for Columbus after his acquisition from FC Basel, but played ninety minutes in each of the Crew’s last two matches, which were both shutouts.  Without Sauro, Gregg Berhalter may throw out Tyson Wahl (18GP/2A) whose aerial skills and footwork are a significant downgrade.  Wahl will line up next to one-time USMNT defender Michael Parkhurst (33 GP/1A) who played every minute against New York this season. Waylon Francis (28 GP/7A) played in the July and October matches against the Red Bulls, taking a single shot in each match.  Ghanaian International Harrison Afful (9GP/2A) played 180 minutes for his country in Africa this week in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying series win over Comoros. As noted above, Afful will miss the match in Harrison with a yellow card on Sunday.   Crew keeper Steve Clark (15-11-8, 6 SO, 1.56 GAA) was terrorized by Mike Grella and New York’s high press in the 2-1 Red Bulls win in Harrison, making bad distribution decisions that led to both of New York goals.

Advantage: New York


 

The Midfields:
Justin Meram, Tony Tchani, Frederico Higuain, Will Trapp, and Ethan Finlay vs. Mike Grella, Dax McCarty, Sasha Kljestan, Felipe and Lloyd Sam.

The Crew midfield has lots of talent, and while Columbus doesn’t press like New York does, they are plenty dangerous, boasting international stars and up-and-coming Americans. Justin Meram (6G/5A) traveled back to Ohio from Chinese Taipei this week after securing a World Cup qualifying win with the Iraqi national team. Meram scored the opening goal in New York’s October win at Red Bull Arena.  Former top Red Bull draft pick Tony Tchani (5G/6A) tied the March match at Mapfre before Grella’s audacious chip. The Crew attack used to run exclusively through Frederico Higuain (8G/9A), but the 31 year-old Argentine has changed his game a bit with the development of Finlay. Higuain was sent off in the March match after picking up a second yellow for dissent.  The one key player that the Red Bulls have yet to see from Columbus is Will Trapp (19GP/3A). The 22-year-old budding star has battled injuries this season that kept him from playing against New York, but the Crew is 7-3 the last ten times that Trapp has suited up. The former Akron Zip helped Columbus hold 58% possession against Montreal the home leg on the 8th.  Lastly is the aforementioned Ethan Finlay (12G/13A) who started every match for Columbus this season. The Creighton product was an MLS All-Star this season, and has pushed himself into USMNT consideration with back-to-back strong seasons. Finlay single-handedly beat New York on July 4th, scoring both goals. He loves to serve balls from the right side onto the head of the onrushing Kamara. Grella (9G/7A) had a relatively quiet series against DC, though his set-piece shot off the corner could have effectively ended the series quite early in the home leg. He will try to draw a yellow from what should be a winded Afful.  Kljestan (8G/14A) continues to get better every week, and his dead ball play has become deadly down the stretch.  McCarty (1G/8A) and Felipe (3G/5A) will have their hands full slowing down Higuain, Trapp, and Tchani and clogging the middle as they’ve done all season.  Sam (10G/7A) will try to take Francis to the line before serving balls into BWP. With Shawn Wright-Phillips (1G/1A) picking up a knock against DC, look for Gonzalo Veron (1G/1A) to be the first off the New York bench.

Slight Advantage: New York


 

The Coaches:

Columbus’ Gregg Berhalter has learned quite a bit since being demolished in last season’s conference semifinals  by New England, and got the most out of his star to advance to the next round. The Crew improved this season under the New Jersey native, and has had nothing but praise for the Red Bulls.  Jesse Marsch knows that DC’s ugly play was able to blunt his club’s attack, and has to be thankful that Columbus should come out and play his squad.

Advantage: Even


Intangibles:

Columbus was only 9-4-4 at Mapfre this season — not a great home record. However, the Crew scored more than two goals per match there. New York beat the Crew at Mapfre in March on Mike Grella’s chip, the 1,000th goal in club history. The Crew’s most frequent defensive result this year was conceding two goals, which bodes well for the Red Bulls.  The second half is where the action is for Columbus, which scored 31 times and conceded the same amount after half time. The Crew was only 11-2-5 when scoring first this season (New York: 15-4-0). The Red Bulls were the only MLS club to finish with a positive goal differential on the road this season, +2. Although New York is winless against Columbus all-time in the postseason, the team is a healthy 14-17-4 all-time in Ohio. New York dropped both matches to the Crew in a best-of-three series in 1998, and then lost MLS Cup 2008 to Columbus by a 3-1 score. Sunday’s match will be a near-sellout, though 400 plus Red Bull Supporters will make the trip as well. The kickoff will be held after sundown, with temps around the freezing point, and clear skies.

Advantage: Even


Prediction:

Sunday’s frigid match will be tough on both teams.  As with the first leg in most series, expect a lot of probing and tentative play at first. The match will open up after halftime, with BWP taking an early lead. The Crew will storm back, with goals by Finlay and a late one by Kamara, setting up a tense second leg at Harrison. Columbus will lead 2-1 at “halftime.”