The Columbus Crew owner, who has created a massive distraction while his team attempts to maneuver its way to an MLS Cup, plans to be in attendance Tuesday at MAPFRE Stadium when the Crew host New York City FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Anthony Precourt stunned the players, staff and community when admitting to a potential franchise move from Buckeye country to the land of the Longhorns – Austin, Texas. This was not Robert Irsay moving the Baltimore Colts in the middle of the night to Indianapolis but instead an owner whose very public statements agitated supporters from one of the original franchises in MLS. Precourt’s timing was also problematic – he revealed an out clause in his contract with the club which allowed for re-location to Austin the week leading into the regular season finale against NYCFC.
NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira thinks the saga surrounding the Crew has served as a galvanizing force heading into their initial playoff clash.
“Of course, there’s no doubt about it,” said Vieira who is often queried about the status of a new stadium for his club. “I’m 100 percent sure the coach and players have used it to unite them. This is a very difficult task.”
A motivated Crew rallied for a 2-2 draw against NYCFC at Citi Field on Decision Day with the late equalizer by Ohio native Josh Williams. The Crew then advanced in the knockout round of the playoffs with a dramatic penalty kick shootout in front of a post-season record crowd in Atlanta after a thrilling, attack oriented contest that belied the 0-0 score line at the conclusion of regulation and extra time.
Wednesday’s playoff match-up is between teams with similar principles and has presented entertaining competitions in the seven game series with an average of 4.5 goals. With two wins, two losses and three draws, NYCFC has outscored the Crew by a slim margin, 17-15.
“They always play good football,” said Vieira. “What I love about Columbus is they have good individuals but what I really like is their collective game. That allows the individual like (Federico) Higuain to show how good they are.”
The 32-year old Argentine has recently provided extraordinary play-making skills. Of Higuain’s 14 assists this season, nine have been served in the last seven matches including a pair in the draw with NYCFC. While Higuain drifts into dangerous attacking areas, he and his teammates must be alert to the forward thinking team from the Bronx.
“We are going to be positive and put them under pressure,” said Vieira. “Last season we were thinking about the second leg without playing the first leg yet. We will go to win the game.”
In NYCFC’s first playoff appearance in 2016 they were dismantled by Toronto FC, 7-0, on aggregate. Vieira’s tactics on this occasion will offer a favorable alternative to the dreadful opening legs in the Western Conference which included a home team that was delighted with a draw.
“In two-legged ties, conceding at home is a no-no. I learned that years ago,” said Vancouver coach Carl Robinson. “That was the mindset.”
The Whitecaps heads to Seattle to meet the MLS Cup defenders following a goal-less stalemate.
“It’s a different way of approaching the game and different qualities from both teams,” said Vieira. “In our game I think both teams will play going forward to try and win the game. Both teams will take more risks going forward and trying to score.”
With post-season format among the emerging topics in MLS, Vieira suggested a different approach to lesson the tedium in the first leg of the series for the highest seeds.
“We all have a different opinion, but mine will be to play the first leg at home,” said Vieira. “You try to win the game. In the second leg you can always manage the game based on the score. When you play at home I would say you have the advantage.”
Instead, the second-seeded NYCFC will meet the No. 5 Crew in thirty-degree temperatures at the first soccer-specific stadium built in the states 19 years ago.
Precourt was an uncomfortable figure outside the locker room following Crew SC’s emotional triumph in Atlanta. Whether he arrives through the front door or the back chamber on Wednesday at MAPFRE is of no consequence. He has inadvertently stimulated a team and a soccer community that want to #SaveTheCrew and win an MLS Cup in their first home match since his startling announcement.