It was a rough Halloween night for New York City FC as they lost on the road at Columbus Crew SC, 4-1, in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup. With the second leg back in New York looming this Sunday, Hudson River Blue’s writers discuss if there’s any hope left to be had.
So, did anything go right?
Rafael Noboa y Rivera: David Villa scored the team’s first playoff goal ever. New York City attacked at will, and took advantage of slipshod defending by Columbus to set up dangerous opportunities, especially in the first half.
Calvin Daniel: Nope. Real answer: NYCFC had some good looks at goal in the first half they couldn't put away. Had they done so, it would've been a different match.
C.A. Smith: It's hard to find a silver lining in a 4-1 loss. But if there's anything that you can take back to the Bronx with you, it's the chance creation. City created plenty of chances, but just couldn’t finish. It's not a stretch to say that they could have scored at least three goals in Columbus.
J3K: NYCFC were able to get after Columbus’ center backs and cause them to make mistakes. It was also good that the blue team had Villa on it.
JakeGofman: The first five minutes, I guess? New York's attack had some bite to it and the high pressure was yielding Columbus errors. I did like the pressure New York put on the Columbus back line throughout the first half and it would have led to a goal if it hadn’t been for some shoddy finishing and poor control from their attacking players.
MikeLuc3: They were able to constantly generate pressure when on the attack. If they had become a bit more liberal pulling the trigger, they may have gotten another clearcut goal opportunity.
What exactly went wrong?
C.A.: Alex Callens getting sent off. Some here might disagree with me, but it was a really soft red card. Callens puts his arm up, and that's pretty much it. He never throws it back or seems to try and make contact with Justin Meram's face. At worst, I feel it's reckless and deserves a yellow. A red was way too grave a punishment, especially in a playoff setting. After the send-off, the floodgates opened for Columbus.
J3K: Not Starting Ronald Matarrita, Sean Johnson blocking every shot directly back into the mouth of the goal, our iron man losing his head at the worst possible time and missed opportunities in the final third.
Rafael: Pretty much everything else. Callens got sent off with an extremely foolish foul when he elbowed Meram in the face. The game was still within reach for New York City, though. It got out of hand because — for reasons beyond understanding — Patrick Vieira refused to manage the game as if he were a man down, and instead managed it as if he were a man up. Rather than closing up shop and escaping Columbus a goal and a man down, they kept on attacking and wound up getting savaged.
Jake: Nearly everything, but I'll try and focus on one thing. Carelessly conceding will get you nowhere in the MLS Playoffs, and that's what happened in the sixth minute when Ola Kamara converted from a short distance to put Columbus on top. Rodney Wallace's giveaway was as poor as it gets, and the subsequent defending was lackluster. That goal energized Crew and its fans. The game unraveled from that point.
Calvin: Nervous and shambolic goalkeeping by Johnson. An uncharacteristically dumb play by Callens. And — yet again — not enough in front of goal outside of Villa.
Mike: Everything else. A lack of playoff experience, discipline and finishing kneecapped them.
If NYCFC want to come back on Sunday, what needs to be fixed?
Calvin: Switch up the Starting XI. Start Matarrita at left back, Andraz Struna at right back and give Jonathan Lewis or Tommy McNamara the start over Wallace.
Jake: In need of a 3-0 or 4-1 result, there really isn't any one fix that can set the team straight. I'd start with the lineup if I was Viera: Sub Lewis for Wallace, Matarrita for Ethan White (with Ben Sweat moving into left center back) and up the pressure to start the match. If NYC can't get a goal early then you switch to three at the back, push Matarrita forward as a winger and sell out for goals. As Young Jeezy once said: "Scared money don't make no money."
Mike: Get Wallace out of the starting lineup. He hasn’t scored since May and now is the wrong time to let him work out the kinks. Maybe McNamara or Matarrita?
Rafael: New York City is essentially at the point of no return. The most plausible scenario for advancing to the East finals involves them delivering a 3-0 shutout against one of the hottest teams in the league. So how do they get there? Bench the utterly ineffectual Rodney Wallace. Start Lewis — who’s been inexcusably absent from the lineup despite being absolutely electric for the Pigeons in his appearances — in his stead. Vieira’s been wedded to the 4-3-3 this season, but he’ll be missing Callens through suspension. Move Sweat to center back, and start Matarrita in place of Sweat at left back.
J3K: Start Matarrita and Lewis. This team needs to win by three to advance so you need to play the best 11 that can put goals up. Also, do something to help Sean Johnson get his confidence back.
C.A.: Please, for the love of any existing deity, do not start Rodney Wallace. He has contributed minimal to our attack ever since the summer and it's time to give either Matarrita or Lewis a shot. Also, start Struna at right back.
What’s your prediction for the second leg?
Jake: New York grabs a first half goal and there's hope. Columbus steals a goal back and New York throws everything at them, getting a second but ultimately falling 2-1.
Mike: 2-1, NYCFC. They play better at home, but it’s too little, too late — especially with Callens out.
C.A.: NYC fight hard, but ultimately it is no use. Columbus wins 2-1 in Yankee Stadium and takes the series by way of a 6-2 aggregate.
J3K: A fun to watch finale to the series, but NYCFC ultimately fall short, 3-2 (6-4, Columbus on aggregate).
Calvin: 2-1, NYCFC and an aggregate loss of 5-3.
Rafael: New York City exit the playoffs with their heads held high, 2-1. They score early, add another in the second half, but give up one to Columbus to seal their fate.