Just nine days ago, the Columbus Crew attempted to dispose of New York City in the friendly confines of Mapfre Stadium.
Kwadwo Poku said no.
After the Bronx Blues fell behind 1-0, its cult hero issued a massive retort serialized in two parts. First, a cool side-footed effort that schooled keeper Steve Clark so hard that he left the game with a diploma:
Second, a flashbang launched from just behind the penalty spot off a corner kick chance just ten minutes later:
Though the Bronx Blues couldn't hold a 2-1 lead, they left with a significant point in the generally nerve-shattering Eastern Conference playoff race. On Saturday, however, New York City and its fans will likely feel hard-done to depart with anything less than a win: though the Crew have won four of their last seven on the trot, they've struggled mightily outside the Buckeye State.
At long last, Frank Lampard -- NYCFC's invisible man -- is listed as probable for the afternoon's contest, and figures to be a contributor off the bench. Though it's hard to imagine New York City's attacking midfield without Poku's power, Tommy McNamara's finishing, and Mix Diskerud's tirelessness, Lampard brings the kind of attacking runs that may be the difference between a high-scoring draw and a downright priceless win.
After all, it was impossible to ignore David Villa's resignation -- his distress -- following Sunday's L.A. Galaxy debacle:
"I need teammates at my side that can help me. I can't do it alone."
This isn't Anfield, but New York City's captain certainly won't be walking alone on Saturday afternoon. At Yankee Stadium, Villa & Co. have earned 16 of their 28 points, and haven't lost in four weeks. Those numbers don't mean a bloody thing, unfortunately, if the infamous bending-and-breaking NYCFC back line withers in the sun as it did against the nigh-unstoppable Galaxy.
The Crew, who have developed a reputation for gaining the lead only to relinquish it in maddening fashion, will need to bomb constant pressure on New York City's back line if they hope to escape the Bronx with a result. To accomplish the task, they'll need a fully-fit performance out of Argentinian star man Federico Higuian, who is questionable with a tweaked hamstring. Failing that, the burden may fall to Justin Meram and Congolese newcomer Cedrick Mabwati to support the cunning Kei Kamara up top and the savvy Ethan Finlay on the wing.
Kamara and Cedrick slotted both Crew goals when these teams first met on August 19th.
Unlike that day in Columbus, however, New York City netminder Josh Saunders will look to ride a raucous home crowd to all three points and the right to spend at least another week alive and kicking in the playoff hunt:
"We’re positive, we’re upbeat and we still have a chance to make the playoffs with eight games left. We got a win at home the last time we played there, so we hope to get another one. We’re eager to get back out there in front of our home fans."
Hey, who's a better candidate to save NYCFC's season than the man who leads the league in saves?
INJURED & ABSENT
New York City:
OUT: Javier Calle (left hamstring strain), Khiry Shelton (left quad strain)
PROBABLE: Mehdi Ballouchy (left adductor strain), Frank Lampard (left quad strain)
QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Campbell (right calf strain), Federico Higuain (left hamstring soreness), Emanuel Pogatetz (right knee sprain)
SUSPENDED: Jack McInerney (yellow card accumulation)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
New York City:
RUNNIN' THE NUMBERS
- -12: Crew SC's goal differential in their twelve road matches in league play. New York City stands +1 at home.
- 75: Minutes during which August 19th's reverse fixture was suspended due to inclement weather.
- 113: Total shots this season for both Kei Kamara and David Villa.
- 14: Goals scored by New York City in the final fifteen minutes of matches, their most productive such period by a significant margin. Columbus has allowed 7 goals in the final fifteen minutes.
- 1: August 19th's 2-2 draw was Jason Kreis's first as a manager against the Crew. With Real Salt lake, he won four and lost seven against the yellow-and-black.
- 107: Total MLS minutes for Frank Lampard, just seventeen more than reserve keeper Ryan Meara and approximately five times fewer than each of Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Jefferson Mena, and Adam Nemec.
- $6,000,000: Lampard's 2015 salary, as listed in MLS's official literature.
Jason Kreis on facilitating the growth of Poku the Punisher, an early candidate for MLS Folk Hero of the Year:
"Every young player frustrates coaches. Every young player that comes into our league and is asked to do more and asked to be playing at a higher level every single day and every single training session has their moments where they can't cope. You see the potential in a player like Poku, and you want him to be at this potential as quickly as possible. I continue to believe in this kid and now he's starting to show, I think, what he's really capable of."
AN INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGE FROM
BROOKLYN'S OWN NASIR JONES
BROOKLYN'S OWN NASIR JONES