“I expect them to sit back, have a deep block and go in to counter-attack,” said NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira.
“We think the best way to advance is by scoring a goal so we’re going to be focused on attacking,” Columbus Crew manager Gregg Berhalter told SiriusXM FC.
So, when the two teams square off in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semi-final on Sunday with the Crew up 4-1. which will it be?
“We both have to wait and see what is going to happen,” said Vieira when SBI informed him of Berhalter’s comments. “When they have three goals, they’re going to be sitting down and waiting and go to the counter attack because they have the players to do it. We’ll see – we have our game plan.”
While NYCFC had plenty of quality chances in the first half of the opening leg at an emotionally charged MAPFRE Stadium, they trailed Crew SC 1-0 at the interval. It was Halloween and the match took an evil twist for NYCFC early in the second half. Alexander Callens, the only field player in MLS to play every minute of the regular season, was sent off for an elbow to Justin Meram in the 52nd minute. Artur extended the advantage for Crew SC with a goal six minutes later.
“When they got the red card and we got the 2nd goal, in my mind we wanted to keep scoring,” said Berhalter. “It happens that New York was doing the same thing, so they tried to push forward and were down a man so they’re going to leave themselves even more open.”
“They cheat a bit, their offensive players,” said NYCFC midfielder Alex Ring. “Of course if we turn the ball over that means they’ll have four or five guys in between positions and you can’t really man mark them because they’re cheating and they’re dangerous.”
Ring’s turnover in the center of the park led to Artur’s first goal as a member of the Crew.
Justin Meram scored his 38th career Crew goal for a 3-0 lead before David Villa took advantage of a Jonathan Mensah error to pull NYCFC within two goals – a workable figure heading into the second leg. However, in stoppage time Harrison Afful meandered past three NYCFC defenders and slotted a left-footer past Sean Johnson to regain a three goal lead – a dagger leaving NYCFC on life support.
NYCFC has only 14 goals in their last dozen games. The last time they scored three goals in a match was August 6 in a 3-2 home win against the New York Red Bulls when Villa recorded his first career MLS hat trick. Before that was a 4-0 win at the Stadium against D.C. United back in March. This week, Vieira elected to share the highlights of the dominating 4-1 win over Columbus on Decision Day in 2016 at Yankee Stadium.
“We showed a lot of video,” said Vieira. “We have to build a belief that we can do it. The way that we play the game, we can concede as well but we can score a lot of goals.”
NYCFC will need a 3-0 victory to make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in their history. If they concede one goal to Columbus, they will have to finish four to oblige extra time. Two goals allowed and the need increases to six.
Despite the long odds, NYCFC still feel they can make a comeback.
“That’s what I’m looking forward to – these are the moments you live for as a soccer player,” said Ring. “It’s do or die, we win 3-0 or more or we go on or we go home and everything was for nothing.”
“This is the beauty of our game, anything can happen,” said Vieira “It’s about belief, confidence and to have a philosophy that allows you to get it done – we can do it.”