Preview: New York City FC at Columbus Crew

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Just seven points separate New York City FC and the Columbus Crew, but the divide in trajectory for both clubs could not be more stark.

The Crew are currently third in the Eastern Conference (9-8-7, 34 points), just ten points from DC United’s Supporters’ Shield-leading spot at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Black and Yellow have quietly gone through a successful MLS campaign thus far, led by league leading goalscorer Kei Kamara and assist leader, Ethan Finlay. Much of that success has been earned through solid home outings where the club has suffered only two losses all season long (7-2-3).

They face a hungry but desperate New York City FC on Wednesday night. NYCFC are one point off the playoff pace, coming off of a strong and surprising victory over DC United last weekend. However, the team has been tumultuous and unpredictable both home and on the road. Their 7-11-6 record places New York just outside of the wildcard with 27 pts. A win will catapult them back into contention — but doing so won’t be easy.


PROJECTED STARTING XI:

NYCFC (4-2-3-1): Saunders; Allen, Hernandez, Mena, Angelino; Pirlo, Jacobson; Mix, Poku, McNamara; Villa

[highlight color=”black”]CREW SC (4-2-3-1)[/highlight]: Clark; Jimenez, Parkhurst, Wahl, Klute; Tchani, Trapp; Finlay, Higuain, Meram; Kamara

HISTORY/LAST MATCH: N/A

BATTLE TO WATCH: Finlay vs. Angelino. Few players have been as consistent defensively as Angelino for NYCFC, and few players can compare with the service Finlay has provided his club this season.

X-FACTOR: Poku. The Ghanian midfielder has put the league on notice with yet another strong cameo for NYCFC. If he can follow that performance up with another stellar showing on the road, Kreis will have a hard time relegating him to the bench — particularly as Lampard nears match fitness.


WHAT TO EXPECT:

While the Columbus Crew are coming off of a snide of their own, there is little question that the onus for victory falls on the visiting NYCFC.

Villa and Poku will have yet another week to build on their budding relationship. Both DC United and the New York Red Bulls had a taste of what the duo is capable of, and both struggled to keep them off the board. Parkhurst is an experienced centerback hand that is capable of handling the attack despite his size. He along with Wahl have the most important assignment of the match for Columbus; contain the NYCFC attack.

Likewise, NYCFC’s defense will be tested. Centerback rock Shay Facey will be out of this match after yellow card accumulation. That leaves the unfamiliar pairing of Hernandez and Mena in the middle, presenting Columbus the perfect opportunity to unleash their experienced hands against the heart of the NYCFC backline. Higuain, Finlay and Kamara will be buzzing about the NYCFC area if allowed to.

That makes the midfield the true battle to watch. While a soccer cliche by all means, this one will be won by the steadiness and ball possession of the midfield. One turning point for NYCFC against DC United was the focus of Pirlo in that mix, helping to transition the attack and protect the ball when needed. The veteran will be counted on once again to provide safety for the traveling blues.

A loss for NYCFC this late in the season can be a death knell to their playoff hopes — especially with the difficult row of matches ahead. Expect NYCFC to bunker in and counterattack their way to a positive result.

Prediction: Crew 1-1 NYCFC