After a month away from home, Columbus Crew SC is returning to MAPFRE Stadium to host New York City FC for a matchup between two teams hungry for three points.
Both Crew SC and NYCFC are looking to rediscover their winning ways when they face off on Saturday night. The visitors have not won since opening match on March 6, when they defeated the Fire 4-3 in Chicago. Since then, New York has tied three and lost one match, all of them at Yankee Stadium.
Crew SC meanwhile is still looking for its first win of the season after drawing two and losing three. The Black & Gold faced a tough start with four of five matches on the road, but Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter says his team is using the early challenges as an opportunity to improve.
“We came up short in the initial phase of the season,” he says. “But we had some tough away games. When you look at Montreal, Portland and Dallas, those are all three tough opponents away from home.”
The Black & Gold boss stresses that, while the results may not have been there, the performances have and there’s no need to hit the panic button.
“The positive is we played well in most of the games," he says. "We’ve had a tough stretch and we’re still in this thing. It’s a long season.”
Now that the tough stretch on the road is over, Crew SC will play four of its next five at home. First up is a star-studded NYCFC team led by forward David Villa, who tallied 18 goals last season and has already scored twice in 2016. Behind him, the NYCFC midfield features big names like Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and Mix Diskerud. Throw in talented players like Kwadwo Poku and Thomas McNamara, and you get a sense of New York’s capabilities.
“David Villa is one of the best players in the League,” Berhalter says. “Obviously, he has a lot of ability, and in terms of their midfield it’s making them work, putting them on the defensive a little bit, and that’s going to be something we’re focused on.”
Leftback Ronald Matarrita is another NYCFC player who likes to get involved in the attack. He will likely face off with Crew SC midfielder Ethan Finlay, who plans to put the Costa Rican to work.
“He’s strong on the ball,” Finlay says. “He can put you on your hip and spin you down the line. One of my biggest strengths defensively is to tire him out offensively. So I’ll do my best to try to run him and make him a little bit tired early on.”
While creating chances has not been an issue for Crew SC, taking advantage and finishing them will be vital to get the first win of the season.
“I think that’s something that we have gotten away from at times,” Finlay says. “We have created a lot of chances early in the game, but haven’t quite finished them. We have to just keep going with it.”
Saturday’s match will be just the third time the Black & Gold face NYCFC. Last year, the two teams played to a 2-2 draw in Columbus and a 2-1 Crew SC win at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.