Following last week’s scoreless draw with the Montreal Impact, Columbus Crew SC will host the New York Red Bulls at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday night.
The last time these two sides met was in the 2015 Eastern Conference Championship, where the Black & Gold defeated New York 2-1 on aggregate to advance to the club’s second MLS Cup. Now with that series behind him, defender and captain Michael Parkhurst says that Crew SC can learn from last season’s postseason matchup and build off of that success.
“The thing that we can use from [the Eastern Conference Championship] is if we don’t cough up the ball in their final third, our buildup, and make it tough for them to break us down and score goals, then we have a good chance of putting up a good defensive game,” he says. “If we turn the ball over early in our buildup and they’ve got numbers going forward, their movement and their ability to take advantage of that is very good, so I think in the playoffs we didn’t give up chances like that.
“We played a little bit safer. We didn’t give up any opportunities on the fast break and we almost shut them out for two games in a row so I think that we can take that from those [matches].”
Now, in 2016, the Red Bulls sit in second place in the Eastern Conference table. After starting the season 1-6-0, Jesse Marsch’s club has won four of its last five matches, and has gone unbeaten in seven of its last nine. Over that span, New York has outscored its opponents 22-6.
Parkhurst is aware of the Red Bulls' offensive threat and rise up the conference standings, but says that Crew SC’s recent defensive performances have helped build a confidence in the squad.
“We know that [the Red Bulls] are playing very good right now. They’re scoring goals, their press is obviously one of their strengths, and we know that they create a lot of turnovers and score a lot of their goals off of turnovers; so we understand what they like to do,” he says.
“I’m sure vice versa, as well, even though we haven’t faced them yet this year, I think it’s a team we are a very familiar with going back to last season. It’s a tough matchup, but definitely [our] two straight shutouts, including in the Open Cup, you get some confidence defensively.”
With the high pressing offense from New York, there will be an increased pressure on the Black & Gold defense and midfielders to be precise and quick with the ball. With that being said, midfielder Tony Tchani says Crew SC’s movement and spacing will be a key tactic for the match against the Red Bulls.
“I think we just have to move the ball quicker, and we just have to make sure when the outside back gets open or gets the ball. Myself, Mo [Saied] would have to move off the ball because we know those guys,” he says. “You just have to find space. I feel like if I find space and I’m wide open, that we gain the opportunity to look forward and find those spaces.”
The Black & Gold currently sit in ninth place in the standings with 15 points. But with Saturday’s match being the first of nine against an Eastern Conference opponent that will come in the next 10 games, Parkhurst says that now is the time to get points and move up the table.
“We know where we are in the standings. We understand what’s in front of us, but we also know that the Eastern Conference is tight,” he says. “We know that these games against the Eastern Conference teams provide us with a great opportunity to move forward quickly; we control our own destiny. There’s still plenty of time.
“We want to take advantage of these games though, there’s no doubt about it. We don’t want to leave it 'til the end of September or October to need to pick up seven or eight points or anything like that, so we want to get above that line as quickly as possible and hopefully we can start with that this weekend.”
Kickoff between Crew SC and the New York Red Bulls from MAPFRE Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. Catch the match on the CW Columbus, Time Warner Cable SportsChannel and BCSN2, as well as on CD102.5 and La Mega 103.1. TICKETS