Preview: A Wiser NYCFC Vows to Take Initiative in First Leg

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

NYCFC logoFor nine months and 34 games, the message from New York City FC was that this year would be different. Coach Patrick Vieira said the ignominy of his team’s 7-0 loss to Toronto FC in last year’s playoffs has taught the team to be braver. Tuesday evening will be a referendum on that sentiment and on NYCFC’s consistent belief in excelsior. City will look to prove itself by seizing the initiative at the Columbus Crew.

“When we played against Toronto last year, we thought about the second game before thinking about the first,” Vieira told reporters in a conference call on Monday. “We are not going to make the same mistake. We are going to have our game plan and we are not going to change from the way we played since the beginning of the season.”

The approach that coaches take toward two-leg affairs is under the microscope after the negative tactics the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders employed in their 0-0 draw on Sunday night. Vieira witnessed firsthand what negative tactics brought last year when Toronto battered NYCFC and secured a 2-0 win at home in the first leg. This year against the Columbus Crew, Vieira is going to focus on winning the first leg and will orient his approach toward that end.

“We have to think about this game and how can we play the perfect game to get the result we want,” he said. “We’re going to go there and try to win the game. That is who we want to be as a club and as a team. Of course, when we go there and try to impose ourselves and force them into making mistakes, there are going to be times when they will be able to create chances. That will be the period of time where we will have to defend well. You will defend be able to defend for 90 minutes and not concede something against a team like Columbus.”

In striking a balance between attacking and defending, Vieira said he is considering a couple of options with his starting lineup. Maxime Chanot, however, will not be one of them as Vieira confirmed that the center back will not be available for the first leg. Right back Ethan White will make the trip to Ohio after leaving training last Thursday with a right leg injury.

Ronald Matarrita could return to the starting lineup, Jonathan Lewis may also get a run out or Thomas McNamara can be used as a number eight, all ideas Vieira said he’s considering. Vieira said he can consider making a surprise change because of how well the team has trained.

“It is a big game but it’s still one game of football,” he said. “That’s why I believe it’s not about the individual players but about the collective team and how they can execute our game plan. If somebody can do it better than someone else, why not choose that player? I don’t have any problems choosing a player who didn’t play in the last few games because I always think about the team before thinking about the individual.”

Ideally, Vieira said, City would be hosting the first leg since it would put it in a better position to impose itself and take control of the series. Instead, his team landed in Ohio on Monday afternoon as the guests to a protest. The atmosphere of passion and dissent that has risen since the owner Anthony Precourt announced plans to seek the team’s relocation to Austin, Tex., will be something Crew Coach Gregg Berhalter taps into Vieira said.

“The coach and the players are going to use it to unite them,” Vieira said. “What is important for us is to be focused on the field and try to play our normal game. That is the tool that Gregg will use for his team for sure.”

When the Crew and the Pigeons cross paths, goals ensue as the two teams averaged about five goals combined in each of their meetings. Although the playoffs will lead to more cautious play, there will still be an ebb and flow to the game with both teams looking to hold onto the ball. When City is  defending, it will look to do so while maintaining a compact, organized shape that restricts space for the Crew’s attacking quartet.

“Every time that we played them, it’s been tough for both teams,” Vieira said. :The details from those games will be important for us. We will have to defend well. If we give them space, they will punish us straightaway because of the quality of the players that they have. At the same time every time we play them we give them a good game. We created chances, we scored goals so it’s been a tough time every time we’ve played me. We will have to be at our best if we want to win the game.”

Vieira said he expects it to be an open game on Tuesday night with both teams taking risks to win. An open game favors NYCFC since all it needs is an away goal or two to be in a position to manage the second leg. If City takes risks and its chances, then the ever upward momentum that drove the team to its best season will return.

“When we attack, we have to go at 100 percent and not go with the handbrake on,” Vieira said. :At the same time, when we are defending, it will be important for the front players to be part of the defensive side and for us to be compact and not allow space in between the lines. What we need to do as a team is to play our game like we know and not put on the handbrake.”

Where: Mapfre Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

When: Coverage begins at 8 p.m., Eastern.

TV/Radio: ESPN; WFAN.com (English;) WADO 1280 AM, 96.3 FM-HD3 (Spanish)

Referee: Allan Kelly

ARs: Matthew Nelson, Brian Dunn

Fourth Official: Ismail Elfath

VAR: Chris Penso