By Nick Fiorino (@stretch_fio)
On Saturday, NYCFC will look to win their third match of the week in the Bronx against the Columbus Crew. A victory would place the boys in blue tied atop the Eastern Conference and level on points with Atlanta United in the chase for the Supporters’ Shield heading into a twelve-day break.
Although three key players for NYCFC are listed as questionable on Saturday, I believe it is best to rest Jo Inge Berget, David Villa, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, especially with a twelve day break on the horizon. That leaves Jesus Medina, Rodney Wallace, and Ronald Matarrita to man the attack alongside Maxi Moralez. The front four will likely be fluid throughout the match, with each dropping into the midfield at times to facilitate possession. Matarrita deserves the start after making a positive impact off the bench in each of the last two matches, highlighted by his goal on Wednesday night. Maxime Chanot should reclaim his starting spot in the back alongside Alexander Callens. The full-backs should remain the same, as well as the midfield defensive two. Do not be surprised, however, to see Tommy McNamara grab his second start of the week in the attack or the midfield.
NYCFC’s red hot form continues, winning four of the last six matches and staying undefeated at home. City’s nine home victories are an MLS best, with no other club tallying more than six.
The Crew have won just one of their last seven matches, and are coming off a 4-0 defeat against the LA Galaxy. Still fourth in the Eastern Conference, however, the Crew could jump into the top three with a win on Saturday night.
The last meeting between these two clubs is tough for City fans to forget, as it was the second leg of last season’s playoff disappointment. Headed into the home leg trailing 4-1, NYCFC had a huge hill to climb, and almost did. Rodney Wallace won a penalty in the 14’, which David Villa converted. An Andraz Struna shot in the 52’ was deflected and hit the back of the net, creating a 4-3 aggregate scoreline. The rest of the match was defined by City misses, Zack Steffen saves, and both posts, as NYCFC was again eliminated in the first round.
Head to Head Record: 3-3-3
NYCFC: Maxi Moralez
The unsung hero of the first half of the season, Maxi Moralez has played in all but 14 minutes this season for City. His ten assists are tied for most in the league, and his seven goals are only one behind the team lead. Even more impressively, Moralez ranks sixth in MLS in expected goals plus assists, placing him in elite company. While NYCFC’s stars have been injured, El Frasquito has shouldered the load for City, and is arguably the team’s MVP through the first half of the 2018 campaign.
Columbus: Gyasi Zardes
Many may not realize it, but USMNT Forward Gyasi Zardes has revitalized his club career in Columbus. Tied for second in goals scored and alone in second place in expected goals in the league, Zardes is the key to the Crew’s attack. His eleven goals are the second most he has scored in any MLS season. On top of those accolades, Zardes has played the second most minutes in MLS this season, showcasing a durability that few goal scorers possess. Columbus’ recent acquisition of Patrick Mullins will only take some pressure off Zardes, who is the new centerpiece of the Crew attack.
Goals: David Villa (8), Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (8), Maxi Moralez (7)
Assists: Maxi Moralez (10), Jesus Medina (7), David Villa (4)
Home Goals: David Villa (5), Maxi Moralez (5)
Goals: Gyasi Zardes (11), Federico Higuain (4),7 Players (1)
Assists: Federico Higuain (7), Pedro Santos (4), 4 Players (2)
Away Goals: Federico Higuain and Gyasi Zardes (1)
Follow Nick Fiorino on Twitter at @stretch_fio and The Third Rail at @ThirdRailSC. Interested in learning more about the Third Rail? Visit our website at thirdrail.nyc for merchandise, weekly game previews and more. Interested in joining? Click here.
Watch NYCFC v Columbus on YES Network at 7:00 ET or Listen on WNYE 91.5 FM