Preview: NYCFC and Crew Try to Pay Attention

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

NYCFC logoOn Sunday, there will be 11 Columbus Crew players and a technical staff who will be at the center of attention for two hours. Then it all returns to the club’s  owner and his stated intention to move the team to Austin, Tex. The players and coaches didn’t ask for their hot run of form to be overshadowed by an owner who said that “ambition should be applauded.” But at the same time if there is a lack of focus from Columbus players on the field, it won’t be Coach Gregg Berhalter‘s fault, but owner Anthony Precourt‘s.

The priority for both the Crew and New York City FC on Sunday will be to win and secure the highest possible seed for the MLS Cup Playoffs. To do that, both will have to concentrate on the game and not on the outside issues surrounding the teams. The Crew have a more existential issue to face while for NYCFC, its issue will literally surround it Sunday playing at Citi Field for the first time.

New York City is expecting a crowd of about 20,000. That would help the club save face in light of its second consecutive, temporary relocation. We’ll have a better idea if City can return to Yankee Stadium for the playoffs after Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night. A Yankee loss and an NYCFC win would guarantee a first-round bye and only a rescheduled Eastern Conference semifinal, not a relocated one.

Goal Drought Matters, Only a Little Less

NYCFC has been held to fewer than two goals in its last eight games, but as the regular season concludes, trends lose some relevance. The number of goals City scores on Sunday does not really matter if it loses and falls to fourth or fifth place, or if it wins, 1-0, to secure second. At least this is how Jack Harrison and Rodney Wallace said they felt about the current drought.

A scoring drought can’t linger on a player’s mind for too long or else it will lead to a cycle of terrible thoughts and results. But for the moment, City remains confident and it starts with Coach Patrick Vieira. Speaking earlier this week, he said that he felt confident in his players to breakthrough.

“When we have players like David Villa who scored 20 goals and we have Jack who scored around 10 goals,” Vieira said. “We’re looking at the chances we created. It’s just that we have to keep working and maybe myself as a coach needs to spend more time working in the last 30 yards but that is a concern for the moment and we have to find a solution.”

Crew Find Their Rhythm

While their owner is in the midst of politically stranding himself, the Crew are one of the hottest teams coming into playoff time. Columbus is unbeaten in its last nine games, having won six, including the last three. Ola Kamara scored a career-high 18th goal in the Crew’s win at Orlando City last weekend. Justin Meram has had his best season recording 13 goals and 7 assists from left wing. Pedro Santos has been a consistent starter at right wing since signing from Portugal’s Braga as a designated player.

Wil Trapp should have a role when the United States men’s national team begins its rebuild. Trapp has a career-high five assists from a deep-lying playmaker role while also completing 89 percent of his passes in the defensive third and 90 percent of his passes in the middle third. That link-up play makes it possible for Meram, Kamara and Federico Higuain to perform in the attacking third.

“I’m not surprised they managed to be in the playoffs,” Vieira said yesterday. “I always praise the coach and the team because of the way they play the game. It’s good for football.”

Where: Citi Field, Queens, N.Y.

When: Coverage begins at 4 p.m., Eastern; kickoff schedule for 4:20 p.m.

TV/Radio: YES2, FoxSportsGo; WFAN.com (English), WQBU 92.7 FM, 96.3 FM-HD2 (Spanish); NYCFC.com/radio (online in both languages)

Referee: Ismail Elfath

ARs: Brian Dunn, Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho

Fourth Official: Sorin Stoica

VAR: Edvin Jurisevic