Preview: NYCFC Looks to Clinch First-Round Bye

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

NYCFC logoThe international break did not plunge New York City FC into an injury crisis and it looks to end Major League Soccer‘s regular season in the top-two for the second consecutive season. A win Sunday afternoon at the New England Revolution could clinch that and the first-round bye that comes with it in the Eastern Conference. It would at the least, keep the awkwardness of next week’s game at Citi Field to only harmless levels.

Second Place in Reach

Atlanta United‘s late loss to Minnesota United last week put NYCFC’s seeding fate in its hands. If Atlanta (15-9-8, 53 points) wins its remaining games, it can only reach 59 points so City (16-8-8, 56) needs four points to reach 60 and mathematically secure second place. Should Atlanta drop points against the New York Red Bulls (13-12-7, 46), NYCFC would be able to secure second place with a win or a draw if the Red Bulls win.

With the regular-season finale moved to Citi Field, NYCFC would prefer to be in a position where its playoff seed would ride on how well it acclimates to another new field. Columbus Crew (15-12-5, 50) could possibly have a home game to play for next weekend so the game won’t be dead rubber. NYCFC, however, can turn the finale into a potential dress rehearsal for a playoff game in Queens rather than a can’t-fail test in an unfamiliar environment.

Turf Woe

Gillette Stadium has largely been unkind to NYCFC, which has won only once and scored twice there. The turf does not suit City’s short passing game and lends itself to mistakes building from the back. The fast surface makes it difficult for defenders in space and the game tends to become more direct with teams using the midfield to contest loose balls rather than to buildup attacks. Fortunately for Coach Patrick Vieira, Alex Ring and Yangel Herrera are the exact type of midfielders who can cope with this. Whether the midfielder that replaces Maxi Moralez can as well remains to be seen.

Fortunately for the Pigeons, the Revolution (11-15-6, 39) have looked rudderless for the past month.

Home Healthy

Herrera, Rodney Wallace and Ronald Matarrita all returned from World Cup qualifying healthy and Jack Harrison returned from his debut with England’s U-21s just the same. Ring was not called in allowing for a welcome period of rest for him. David Villa was able to string two full weeks of training together and should be back to himself after the injury he susteained in the September window.

The break was also good for Sean Johnson because he was able to rest his knees which haven taken a beating since August. It wasn’t so good for him in the soccer-sense, same can be said for the Revolution’s Juan Agudelo.

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

When: 5 p.m., Eastern

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

Referee: Nima Saghafi

ARs: Corey Parker, Cladiu Badea

Fourth Official: Jorge Gonzalez

VAR: David Barrie