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Instant Reaction: The problem with NYCFC game management

A lucky deflection gave Columbus the equalizer, but New York City never should have let them back into the game and allowed them to take their chances.

Even before Sean Zawadzki scored the equalizer in the 94th minute that allowed a Columbus Crew reduced to ten players to steal a draw with New York City FC in front of a rabid home crowd at Field, it was clear that this Instant Reaction was going to be about the NYCFC game management.

At first, it was going to praise this NYCFC for developing into a team that could close out a game. Growth comes through experience, and the hope was that NYCFC wouldn’t repeat the mistakes they made when they gave away a 95th-minute equalizer to Atlanta United in front of a packed house at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on June 22. Surely this team had learned their lesson, and knew what to do when placed in a similar situation.

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Instead, history repeated itself. NYCFC didn’t defend a narrow lead. They gave up the ball too easily, didn’t bunker down in possession, and didn’t take the ball to the flag again and again. The other team created chaos, and took their chances. A mostly-solid NYCFC defense were undone by an unlucky deflection.

Still, it was a shot that NYCFC never should have allowed Zawadzki to take. NYCFC never should have allowed forward Luis Diaz to tee him up, or Mohamed Farsi to get a clean pass to him from the right flank. The goal was unlucky – or lucky, if you’re from Ohio – but the run of play that led to the shot was the result of poor game management by NYCFC.

Even worse, Columbus were reduced to ten players – and lost two coaches – because of red cards. This wasn’t two equal sides grappling in the dying minutes of the game. This was a mismatch that New York City should have turned into an unbeatable advantage.

NYCFC could have played keep-away to close out the game, possession with purpose. Or they could have gone for a second goal, and slammed the door shut on Columbus. Instead they did a little from Column A, a little from Column B, and that on-field indecision allowed a determined Crew to fight their way back into the game.

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Was the tentative game management because of the youth of the team? NYCFC ended the game with an 18-year-old, a 20-year-old, and two 21-year-olds on the field, while nobody on the Crew was younger than 22. Experience counts. Was it the circus on the field? The two red cards shown to the Columbus bench seemed to throw off NYCFC, and embolden the Crew. Was it the coaching? NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing needs to drill down on how to close out a game.

It’s painfully true because this side doesn’t score easily. If they NYCFC are to win with this roster, they need to learn how to protect a one-goal lead all the way until the final whistle blows.

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