PREVIEW: East-leading Crew SC visits New York Red Bulls

The Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew SC hits the road to take on the New York Red Bulls for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff on April 22. The Black & Gold are still sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference after last week’s 2-1 victory against Toronto FC.

“I don’t look at this season as something special yet because of our strong start," Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said. "I look at it as we play our next game against a very difficult opponent that’s very tough to play at their home. The Red Bulls have always played us tough, especially there. It’s going to be hard, but we want to go there with the right mindset and get a result.”

This weekend’s match will be the first of two regular-season meetings between the clubs, and it will mark the 66th all-time regular-season meetings between the two Eastern Conference teams. The Black & Gold hold a 26-29-10 record against the Red Bulls.

Last season, Crew SC took on the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on October 16, 2016. Despite goals by Adam Jahn (73’) and Harrison Afful (80’), the match ended 3-2 in favor of the hosts, with goals by Mike Grella (53’) and a brace by Bradley Wright-Phillips (58’, 70’).

“It’s one of the reasons I came to MLS, to play the quality players here," Crew SC defender and Week 7 MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week honoree Nicolai Naess said. "There are better players and players with bigger names. I don’t get that in Norway, and I can feel myself getting better with that experience. I’ve played (the Red Bulls') Bradley Wright-Phillips once, but I will watch him on video and prepare even more this week. We have to go to New York as a team and prepare to defend as a team.”

The Red Bulls, who are sitting fifth in the East, are unbeaten in 17 consecutive home games and have kept 11 clean sheets in that time. They are also coming into Saturday’s match off a 2-0 win against D.C. United in Week 7. Last week’s match marked the first win for the Red Bulls in which they were able to find the back of the net multiple times without the help of an own goal by their opponents. Goals were netted by Alex Muyl seconds into the second half and BWP in the 62nd minute, his third goal in his past five matches.

“I know that it’s been publicly talked about that New York started in a 4-2-2-2 and had some struggles," Berhalter said. "They’re now back to a 4-2-3-1  and they’re looking more comfortable. I can imagine they’ll continue that. They have a good press, and we know some of the things they like to do and the spots they like to overload. They like to win the second ball and we know we’ll have to try to play through some of the chaos that they like to create.

"We have to be ready for a lot of fouls. The Red Bulls are very aggressive, physically. The like to get a lot of pressure on the ball, and if you break that pressure, then they foul you very quickly. We have to be prepared for a choppy game and for a lot of contact, but that’ll be up to the referee to manage the game. I have a lot of respect for the Red Bulls and a ton of respect for what (head coach) Jesse Marsch has built and what they’ve done. They are a very good team and I think it’ll be a difficult game. We are going to prepare for set pieces — both offensively and defensively. They are a very good offensive team and we’ve done OK offensively, so we want to keep the pressure on them through our offense.”

Columbus Crew SC visits the New York Red Bulls on April 22 for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff — the game will be broadcast on The CW Columbus, Spectrum Sports, BCSN2 and the English-language radio call will be on CD102.5 FM while the Spanish-language call will be on La Mega 103.1 FM. The English radio stream will be available on ColumbusCrewSC.com.

The Black & Gold return to MAPFRE Stadium on April 29 for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff against Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and New York City FC