Know your enemy! Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SB Nation Soccer world to get some insight on their team from those who know them best.
It all comes down to this. Struggling to get results over the last several weeks, NYC FC controls its destiny this Sunday as the team matches up against a dangerous and in-form Columbus squad looking to move up in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture.
A win clinches the #2 seed and the all important first round bye for New York. A draw or a loss could shuffle the order considerably, depending on the results from Chicago and Atlanta.
Pat Murphy from Massive Report joins us once again and answers our Crew questions. Pat gives us some much-needed perspective on the potential Columbus move to Austin, discusses the Crew’s form, and gives us a taste for what we should expect Sunday.
Q. Less of a question, I wanted you to give the HRB readers some perspective on the potential move to Austin and give you a chance to express your feelings.
It's been an interesting and sad week for sure for soccer fans in Columbus. Quick background, we heard over the summer (probably June) that if the team didn't start performing better with attendance and such, there was a chance owner Anthony Precourt moves the team to Austin. At that point we could confirm nothing and it seemed more like a rumor than anything, at least one that wasn't going to be announced any time soon.
On Monday night, word reached us that this was indeed a possibility and something would be announced Tuesday morning. As we were looking for more confirmation, Grant Wahl tweeted out the news that Precourt would move the team to Austin unless a downtown stadium was built in Columbus. Tuesday morning, he confirmed that report on a teleconference. Chaos ensued.
Since then, there have been mass gathering of Crew fans throughout Columbus and the #SaveTheCrew movement has started.
It's sad because some people, myself included as both a fan and a media member, have grown up watching this team from the beginning in 1996. There are facts that back up this move. The Crew are at or near the bottom in almost every financial metric. The stadium was built hastily and needs either a lot of work or a rebuild. It's proven that MLS teams in new markets do well, at least at first.
The issue many fans are having is that Austin is very similar to Columbus and, the belief is, with more effort from Precourt (under his watch we've seen the best game day promotions disappear in exchange from Bring Your Pup to the Pitch Night), this could happen in Columbus and the team could be saved, similar to what happened in Kansas City.
Precourt came in with Austin in the back of his mind. He made some changes to this team, certainly the rebrand helped bring attention to the team, but neglected to inform the city that the stadium was do or die (in fact, he stated his appreciation for MAPFRE Stadium and its history in MLS and U.S. Soccer).
It's been a lot to try and process, and frankly I'm not sure everyone has. Here's what we know: it looks very likely there won't be an MLS team in Columbus in 2019. And that sucks for everyone involved.
Q. Back to the soccer, where Crew are officially in the playoffs with an outside chance at moving up from the fifth spot, especially if they get three points this weekend. How does your ideal scenario play out this weekend? Who do you hope to play in the first round, Atlanta, Chicago or Red Bulls?
Obviously the best case scenario is the Black & Gold win this weekend and the other results go the team's way, allowing Columbus to rise to the two seed and skip out on the one-game wild card. If not that, a home game in the wild card round would be ideal (and interesting given all that's happened this week).
As for who to play, if I'm the Crew, I want nothing to do with Atlanta. The two teams met twice this year and neither went the Black & Gold's way. United's speed on the counter attack is deadly and directly opposes how Columbus likes to play. Avoid Atlanta at all costs.
Between the Fire and the Red Bulls, I think it's a toss up. Both teams have been up and down lately and the Crew have had recent success against each. I would feel pretty good against either side, especially if the game is at MAPFRE Stadium.
Q. Crew are rolling into the Playoffs, exactly what you would want from your team at this stage in the season. The team is unbeaten in nine games, with their last loss dating all the way back to August 5th. What's clicked for Columbus in the final quarter of the season? If I'm NYC FC, what should scare me most about this Crew team?
To me it seems things are finally falling into place for this team. From the beginning of the year, this was a good team trying to figure out how to best play and who to best put on the pitch. Gregg Berhalter admitted over the first half of the season that he was doing a lot of tinkering to try and answer those questions.
The Crew has played with both four and three in the back this year. They've stuck with the possession style and sometimes gone away from it, looking to counter attack more. Berhalter now has a lineup he trusts that is playing well, guys coming off the bench that are motivated to push the starters and a team that's hungry because of the time of year.
I still doubt Columbus makes it back to MLS Cup given the challenges of the East, but you would much rather be the hot team than a side stumbling into the postseason.
As for this game, the Crew's attack is playing at a very high level right now. Even in a 1-0 win over Orlando City last week, this team created chance after chance and, if not for some serious flubs in front of goal, should have won the game by two or three. Containing Federico Higuain, Ola Kamara, Justin Meram and the like will be key for the home side on Sunday.
Q. Match Prediction?
I think it will really depend on how this week has actually impacted the players. They said all the right things on Tuesday at training in terms of staying focused on the game, but saying it and having it actually be true are two different things. I'll go with a 2-2 draw.
There you have it! Thanks again to Patrick for answering our questions. Have a hot Columbus Crew take? Let us hear it in the comments section!