New York City hits the road for the next two weeks. The Blues seek their second win of the season. It cannot come soon enough. After a wild 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire jolted the season into life, New York City came home, looking to keep winning.
Instead, a four-game home-stand featured three draws and a loss sandwiched in between. The early optimism engendered by that victory? Curdled now into cynicism and gloom. Gone are the days when New York City fans would dance in the streets in joy, regardless of the result on the field. Jeers, not cheers, cascaded resoundingly from fans after Sunday's scoreless draw against Chicago.
That's one way to look at things. To think: here we go again. Another winless streak -- four games and counting -- to match last season's eleven games without joy. Perhaps, that's the case. Perhaps.
But to say that ignores a bevy of evidence solely to maniacally focus on numbers here and there, which gets us nowhere. This is not the same team we saw last year. This is a much more coherent outfit. It is equipped with a singular vision.
It attacks. It defends. It does these things with vigor and purpose. New York City have conceded just two goals in their last three games. They've scored just the one goal - a rebound by Thomas McNamara - but they are among the league's pacesetters in possessing the ball and touching it. The goals will come; that they haven't is a function of luck more than most things.
Tonight, they play Columbus Crew SC. The season ended painfully for Columbus. Hosting the MLS Cup Final, they expected to win; instead, they suffered the agony of watching the Portland Timbers cap an unlikely playoff scamper with a win over them.
Say this for the Blues; they've at least tasted victory. Columbus still hungers for a first win of the season. They're the only winless MLS squad . The hangover of defeat lingers, despite all efforts. Kei Kamara, who scored 22 goals last season, only has one to his credit this year. Can they shake it off? Will they?
"I’m not going to be naïve to think their record reflects the type of team they are," NYCFC defender Jason Hernandez said in an interview with the team site. "We know they’re a very dangerous team and a very good team and chomping at the bit at home. The onus will be on us to be strong and solid for the entire 90 minutes because they have guys who in just a split second can hurt you."
It's not just Kamara. In Federico Higuain, Columbus has the kind of creative player that New York hungers for, desperately needs, and doesn't have.
Tonight's game sets up, therefore, in tantalizing fashion for both New York City and Columbus. It's early yet in the season, but there's an urgency to this game that you don't often see. Neither team wants to be stuck in a rut. Both are acutely aware that however early it might be, it's not too soon to have a promising season derailed.