The Blues look to get back on the playoff track in the Bronx against Columbus on Saturday.
By Jeff Weisinger
“It’s a playoff mentality. It’s essentially do or die every game.”
Josh Saunders knows what’s on the line and the importance of Saturday’s rematch against Columbus for New York City FC when the Blues take on the Crew in the Bronx (4 p.m., YES).
NYCFC (7-12-7; 28 points) is currently seventh in the Eastern Conference table as they continue to try to overtake Montreal (8-10-4; 28 points), who holds the spot with a better goal differential. The Blues have competition with Orlando, Philadelphia and Chicago in the chase as well.
“We have to take these last eight games one at a time,” head coach Jason Kreis mentioned. “We have to put all of our focus and energy into this first game. It’s critical we get three points at home.”
NYCFC takes on a Columbus Crew SC side that they drew 2-2 against last Wednesday in a weather-delayed match in Columbus. Kwadwo Poku led NYC back from a 1-0 hole at halftime, scoring a pair of goals in the second half. However the 2-1 lead wouldn’t last for long as the Crew came right back, scoring the game-tying goal just before the refs delayed the match to lightning.
However they followed the draw by getting embarrassed on ESPN, falling 5-1 to the defending MLS Cup champion L.A. Galaxy.
“The biggest lesson we learned is if we aren’t all together and physically ready to play a team like L.A., we’re going to get dominated,” Kreis said.
NYCFC has only looked “all together” on a few occasions this year, those of which turned into wins. For the most part, the Blues have struggled to keep any sort of consistency or even chemistry on the pitch. They looked decent at times against Columbus and completely collapsed against Los Angeles, making one wonder if the team took the road trip serious or not.
“It’s a new week, so we can’t dwell on it,” midfielder Tommy McNamara said. “We have eight games left and we really need to give it everything we have to make this playoff push.”
The Return of that Lampard guy?
With the new playoff mentality kicking in with the Blues, NYCFC could have Frank Lampard back on the pitch for the first time since early August.
“He’s trained fully all week and he’s in contention to start,” Kreis said after training.
“He and I collectively made the wrong decision there and probably should have got him out at 60 minutes regardless of the score. But it’s for a good reason,” Kreis mentioned. “We’re both very competitive. We both want things to turn around here quickly and we both want to make the playoffs.”
The 37-year-old English midfielder has been held back by a calf strain and a quad injury since arriving in the Big Apple earlier this summer. He’s missed a total of six games since his original expected July 12th debut.
“Now we can add another piece and see if all the players now can all look collectively better and we can have a better tactical identity for our team,” Kreis added.
Whether or not Lampard can actually be a factor for the Blues on Saturday is another question. In the 106 minutes he’s played, Lampard has been anything but the “legendary” midfielder that everyone knows him as.
However, should he play on Saturday vs. Columbus, it will be just the third time NYCFC has had all three DP’s on the pitch at the same time.
Frustrations hitting a high for NYCFC’s captain?
However the Blues have to be able to rely on each other, and not just the designated players Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and captain David Villa if they’re going to pull off the win on Saturday, let alone reach the playoffs in the final stretch.
Villa’s frustration hit a high after the 5-1 loss in L.A. on Sunday. After the game, he told Univision:
“I’ve obviously done great things in my career, but I need people around me to do things. Only, it is impossible for me to do anything against the team that is. In the first 20 minutes we have big plays on offense and suddenly we have come back, too far from goal.”
There’s no question that David Villa has carried the team on his back this season, scoring a club-high 15 goals this season, tying his with L.A’s Robbie Keane for third in the Golden Boots standings.
Kreis mentioned that his captain’s words were “misinterpreted,” however he wasn’t wrong.
“He was saying tactically he needed more players in advanced position to help him when he got the ball,” Kreis explained. “I absolutely 100 percent agree.
“It’s something we continually talk about, to not have our midfielders drop so deep to have to defend. Often times they’re as deep as the back four. That can’t be right because when the ball turns over, we need to be able to play forward.”
However while Villa has done his part, he’s waiting for the rest of the Blues to do theirs. Villa’s point about starting hot in the first 20 minutes of the game before cooling off in the latter part of the first half has been a theme with NYCFC in the second half of the season.
With Montreal keeping a firm hold of that sixth and final playoff spot in the East, even Villa knows that it’s time to step up.
“We’re there,” he explained. “We need [Montreal] to lose game because they carry fewer games than us, but we try until the end.”
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