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Scouting the Opposition, Playoff Edition: Columbus Crew

We must #SaveTheCrew, but first we must scout them.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finally here. The Eastern Conference semifinals have arrived.

New York City FC faces a challenging first leg Tuesday night, on the road in Columbus in front of what is bound to be an excited — and agitated — group of Crew supporters. The Boys in Blue know that a positive result can set them up for an extended playoff run, but they will need to be careful against a team that’s in-form and up for the challenge.

Last Time We Played...

It was just nine days ago, remember that? On a wild decision day, NYCFC teetered back and forth between the 2nd and 3rd position in the East before earning the draw at “home” at Citi Field. Toronto did its part against Atlanta and New York City claimed a first-round bye, barely.

New York City had most of the possession and shots that day, but did not find things easy against a strong Columbus squad. Ola Kamara had the visitors in front early in the match, finishing masterfully off of a lofted through-ball that sailed over Frederic Brillant’s head. David Villa — who else — then scored twice before the half was through, first off of a corner kick and the second on a low, near-post screamer. Columbus pulled the game level after the break, returning the favor and scoring on a poorly defended corner. In the final minutes of extra time, City earned a penalty but Villa was denied his hat-trick and NYCFC settled for one point.

What’s Happened Since

Columbus finished as the 4th seed in the East, earning the unenviable task of traveling to Atlanta to face a scary Atlanta United team in a one game playoff. Four posts hit, a ball cleared off the line and one terrible offsides call later, and the two teams had to decide the match on penalties. Zack Steffen — already having himself a game to remember — saved several Atlanta penalties in the shootout, propelling Columbus to the Eastern Conference semis.

How They Play

It’s taken Crew some time, but the team has finally found a fitting formation and style just in time for the postseason. The team is unbeaten over its last 11 matches (7-4-0), and has a lot of firepower up front to go along with reliable defending in the midfield. Sound familiar?

New York City defenders’ persona non grata on Tuesday will be Ola Kamara. Kamara is a veteran goalscorer that has terrorized NYC as recently as nine days ago. His power and athleticism will require City’s center back pair to be on the same page at all times or else they risk conceding. Behind Kamara, Columbus features dangerous winger Justin Meram, who scored 13 goals and added 7 assists this season.

On defense, Columbus relies heavily on Wil Trapp and Artur to stop the bleeding when the ball is turned over, and lines up veterans Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams at the center of the defense. The two center backs have a knack for contributing on set pieces as well, combining for five goals.

Projected Crew Starting XI

Player to Watch

The engine within Columbus’ attack is none other than Federico Higuain, Crew’s no. 10 and their midfield stalwart. Higuain has been with Columbus since 2012, contributing 48 goals to the club during his time there. This season, Higuain has netted 9 goals and added 14 assists, as well.

The Argentine doesn’t overwhelm in the attack, but like any great no. 10, always pops up in the right place when he’s needed. He’s good for several key passes per game and will take his chances shooting when they come. Alexander Ring will be called on to slow down Higuain, and NYC need a big game from its defensive midfielder if a positive away result is to be in the cards.

Interesting Facts and Musings

  • Hector Jimenez and Artur are both a yellow card away from suspension
  • All-time, NYCFC is 2-2-3 against Columbus
  • Anthony Precourt sucks, #SaveTheCrew