Like the Houston-Portland series in the Western Conference, the Eastern semifinal series between New York City FC and Columbus that kicks off Tuesday (ESPN, MLS Live, 8 p.m.) at MAPFRE Stadium
features teams with no trouble scoring goals against each other.
The five meetings in the past two seasons have averaged exactly five goals per game. Just nine days ago, they shared four
goals in Queens, and back in late April NYCFC came away from MAPFRE Stadium with a 3-2 win.
But that was then, before Crew SC rolled through the final 10 games of the season unbeaten and
prior to owner Anthony Precourt’s
admission he’s been flirting with Austin while also snubbing efforts by local business leaders to keep the team in Columbus.
Regardless of the specifics, safe to say Crew SC is a cause célèbre for fans around the league, though head coach Gregg Berhalter
says his team doesn’t need any extra
motivation after outlasting Atlanta United on penalty kicks in the Knockout Round.
“As a group, we just need to move forward and focus on how we can beat a good New York City
team,” Berhalter said. Counterpart Patrick Vieira
disagrees. “Of course, there’s no doubt about it. I’m 100 percent sure the coach, the players, they are all
going to use it to unite them,” Vieira said. “What is important for us is to focus on what is going on the field and try to play our normal game, but this is the tools Gregg is going to
use for the team for sure.”
Crew SC has certainly pulled together down the stretch and Precourt’s shock announcement merely poured more fuel on a fire that was already
burning brightly. A great game by keeper Zack Steffen
extended the game in Atlanta to extra time and then penalty kicks, during which two more Steffen saves enabled Crew SC to prevail. He also
snuffed a Villa penalty kick in stoppage time in the team’s last meeting. The job of monitoring Villa, should he choose to roam more in the middle third, will be that of Trapp and Artur
whose resolute work in the Knockout Round blunted many an Atlanta attack.
When these teams met Oct. 22, both Crew SC goals were set up by Federico Higuain
, who notched seven of
his career-high 14 assists in the last four regular-season games. NYCFC tends to leave gaps in that zone 20 to 30 yards from goal where Higuain likes to operate and NYCFC midfielder Alexander
must be prominent. Ola Kamara
is the top scorer with 18 goals. Justin Meram
(13 goals) needs to rebound from a tepid display in Atlanta though a
terrible offside decision robbed him of a clear opportunity to score.
Emotions will be running hot at MAPFRE Stadium, which Precourt deemed substandard when he bought the team four years
ago. MLS owners apparently agree with him regarding the facility and the Columbus market from a business standpoint but on Tuesday they will witness the emotional factor they have left out of their