Last time they needed three points, they got it against D.C. United. Now can they do it again on the road against another top conference rival?
By Jeff Weisinger
The toughest part of the month has arrived for New York City FC. The Blues find themselves in a similar must-win situation on Wednesday night when they travel to Columbus for another mid-week match, this time against Columbus Crew SC (7:30 p.m. ET, YES).
NYCFC is coming off of another solid second half performance in their 3-1 comeback win against conference and Supporters’ Shield leading D.C. United last Thursday at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
“Thursday’s match was really big,” defender RJ Allen said to the media. We got three points and we need to continue to move up the table. More importantly, it was a good morale boost and confidence builder after the past few games before that. We’re not where we want to be just yet, though. There’s still work to be done. These next couple games are even more important.”
Tommy McNamara tied the match at one apiece in the 51st minute, then captain David Villa scored his team-leading 14th goal of the season to put NYCFC ahead 2-1 in the 80th off of a perfect takeaway and pass by Andrea Pirlo. Midfielder Kwadwo Poku sealed the win with his second MLS goal of the season in the 88th minute. Poku had the key assist on McNamara’s equalizing goal, beating D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid in a one-on-one situation.
“In the second half, Poku was again involved in a lot of really good stuff,” head coach Jason Kreis said after the match on Thursday. “For me it was important to see him play well again, it was important to see him last through 90 minutes.”
The Blues improved their record to 7-11-6 on the season and their 27 points in the table puts them just one point behind both Orlando City and the Montreal Impact for that sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A win on Wednesday night, especially a win against an Eastern Conference rival in Columbus, could push the Blues above the red line, a place they haven’t been in since March.
“It’s obviously a big result,” assistant coach Miles Joseph said of Thursday night’s win. “It allows the team to feel that all the work they’ve been putting in is justified. There are a lot of new players who came in midway through the year and its taken time for everybody to get used to each other and get on the same page.
The work and effort has remained the same. It’s nice to see the work we’ve put in is showing in matches.”
NYC will have to pull another full effort Wednesday night against a Columbus team that is 3-1-1 in their last five matches, most recently defeating the Colorado Rapids 2-1 on August 8.
“They’re a very good team,” Joseph mentioned. “They deserve to be where they are in the standing. They work hard and have dangerous players. We have our hands full going on the road into Columbus. It’s an exciting and big challenge for our group.”
One of the biggest challenges for the Blues is containing MLS’ lead scorer Kei Kamara, who’s scored 17 goals in 24 appearances (23 starts) this season so far. The Crew also have dangerous players all around in Ethan Finlay who’s scored seven goals but has a team-high 12 assists and Federico Higuain, who’s tallied six goals with five assists. Kamara also has five assists to his name as well.
One issue of their own NYCFC will have to deal with on Wednesday will be the availability of midfielder and designated player Frank Lampard, who was sidelined Thursday night with a quad injury. Poku performed well in his place and should get the start again on Wednesday. Lampard is listed as questionable for Wednesday night, however he is traveling with the team to Columbus and to Los Angeles for Sunday’s match against the LA Galaxy.
“Every coach of every good team has struggles making decisions. I would like to be in that position, I really would,” Kreis said when asked about Lampard and Poku. “I prefer that position to having lost and trying to figure out what’s the next lineup I can put out there to give us a chance to win. I prefer to win, have important players coming back and having to make critical decisions whether or not they enter the starting lineup.”
Lampard has struggled since arriving to the Big Apple. Since his originally scheduled debut on July 12, Lampard has missed a total of four matches, was a non-factor in his eventual debut in the Blues 3-2 loss to the Montreal Impact and near embarrassing to watch in NYC’s 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls, his first start.
The best move for Kreis would be to let Lampard play off of the bench, like he did last year with Manchester City, especially since Poku has played well in his appearances this year.
But Lampard’s situation isn’t the only thing to watch for. NYCFC’s backline played a fairly solid game on Thursday night for the first time since their four-game undefeated stretch earlier this summer. The challenge is to see if they can build off this new momentum they have going in the defensive third.
Shay Facey will be unavailable for NYCFC’s game against Columbus due to suspension for yellow card accumulation.
— NYCFC Nation (@NYCFCNation) August 18, 2015
“Obviously it’s a couple of execution plays, you’re making good defensive tackles. [Jason Hernandez] made two good defensive plays in the back,” goalkeeper Josh Saunders said Thursday night. Saunders leads the league with 81 saves on 118 shots.
“It’s just cutting down on mistakes and giving the ball away in bad spots and we did that [Thursday]. We had good cover for each other. The fight was there, the will was there. The intensity was good and that helped a lot.”
Wednesday night won’t be the first time the Blues had to take on a solid attack on the road. NYCFC did a great job containing Toronto FC’s attack earlier this summer, making star-striker Sebastian Giovinco a non-factor in NYCFC’s 2-0 win on June 20.
“We’re right here on the line for the playoffs and if we do the right things, we’ll be in the playoffs,” Joseph said. “And that will be a really great accomplishment for the Club.”
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