Refresh: New York City FC seeks 'belief and confidence' for game two

A scorer like David Villa, who has netted 23 goals so far this season and 64 in his MLS career, gives his team a chance in just about any circumstances, and in his impressive accomplishments lies the hopes of New York City FC in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals series against Columbus Sunday (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, MLS Live, 5 p.m.).

NYCFC fans take some solace in the fact that three of goals conceded in a 4-1 loss Tuesday occurred after a red card issued to defender Alexander Callens in the 52nd minute. He’s been one of the league’s top centerbacks this season and will miss the rematch at Yankee Stadium, where the tight dimensions and quirky configuration often produce high-scoring outcomes.

The bubbling intensity on display at Mapfre Stadium -- spurred by a possible move to Austin -- will have dissipated from Crew SC players, though they haven’t rolled unbeaten through their last 12 games – which includes a gutty elimination of Atlanta United in the Knockout Round -- by faking it. They also know a repeat of the 2-2 tie at Yankee Stadium on the final day of the regular season is more than enough to secure advancement, and with Zack Steffen in the nets, protecting a three-goal aggregate lead should be quite doable.

“I expect them to sit back, have a deep block and go into counter-attack,” said NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira to reporters Friday. “We have to wait and see but when you have three goals, they will sit back and wait to counter because they have the players to do it.”

Four different players scored for Crew SC in the first leg, starting with Ola Kamara’s strike in the sixth minute and Harrison Afful’s mazy run and finish during stoppage time. Yet despite the lengthy man-advantage, Columbus controlled only 37.8 percent of possession and gave away a bad goal, scored by Villa, following the latest in a string of poor moments for centerback Jonathan Mensah. He slipped trying to clear a ball that instead looped behind him, and Villa swiveled neatly to drive it past Steffen.

Three Crew SC goals were directly down to keeper Sean Johnson. He gave up a rebound that Kamara converted, was leaning the wrong way when Artur scored, and somehow let a low shot by Justin Meram squirt under his dive and into the net. For the most part, Johnson had responded well this season to a winter move from Chicago, and needs a sharp upgrade in his play for the second leg for NYCFC to have any chance at all.

The Meram goal resulted from a counterattack in the manner described by Vieira. That ability to strike quickly, combined with the pace of Meram and playmaking of Federico Higuain, greatly decreases the likelihood of a dramatic turnaround. But given the erratic tendencies of Mensah, and expertise of Villa as well as Jack Harrison and Maxi Moralez, an early NYCFC goal could make matters very interesting.

“We showed the team a lot of video -- we have to build the belief that we can do it,” said Vieira. “The way that we play, of course we can concede, but we can score a lot of goals. This is the beauty of the game -- anything can happen. It’s just about belief and confidence.”
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