Columbus Crew SC, ranked fourth in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference standings, travels to second-place New York City FC in a rematch of last year’s conference semifinals on Saturday, July 14 at 7 p.m ET at Yankee Stadium.
Columbus (8-6-6) look to rebound after a setback against the LA Galaxy last weekend, while NYCFC — who is unbeaten in nine home games this season (9-0-1) — enters on the tail of a 3-0 victory over the Montreal Impact on Wednesday after downing the New York Red Bulls 1-0 last Saturday.
Forward Gyasi Zardes continues to lead the Black & Gold with 11 goals as Crew SC looks for another point opportunity on the road in what is the first of three consecutive matches against eastern conference opponents. Zardes' total stands tied for second league-wide and three ahead of NYCFC's leading scorers in Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and David Villa.
At training on Tuesday, defender Josh Williams spoke on his former team and how Yankee Stadium itself has proved to be a formidable defender in its own right.
"They are a good team, especially at home. It's such a condensed field and I feel like their spacing, they're always an intense team," Williams said. "They're a tough team to beat on that field, and anywhere, actually. It's going to be a tough task."
Last Saturday, captain Wil Trapp earned Acura Man of the Match honors after posting a game-high 88.0 percent passing accuracy on 75 total passes. Additionally, goalkeeper Zack Steffen made his return to the pitch after missing the prior two regular-season matches. In the central attacking role, midfielder Eduardo Sosa scored his first League goal after making his MLS and Crew SC debut on June 30 against Real Salt Lake en route to earning MLSsoccer.com's Team of the Week honors.
As for the opponent, the Cityzens (11-4-4) have totaled eight goals in their last four competitions. In the two clubs’ most recent matchup on Nov. 5, 2017, NYCFC came out of Yankee Stadium with a 2-0 win in Leg 2 of the conference semifinals but fell on aggregate after losing 4-1 to Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium the week prior.
When asked about the significance of Saturday's match as part of the club's three-game streak against conference opponents, Afful emphasized starting with the opportunity at hand.
"It's a great opportunity for us to get back on winning terms," Afful said. "So we just have to go out there with the right mentality and then make sure we get the three points...The [team] improvement is always about taking our chances. Every game we get a couple of chances and we have to make use of it."
On playing against fellow Ghanaian Ebenezer Ofori, the Columbus defender remained focused on the overall picture.
"I know him pretty well. He's a great guy, he's a great player...and he's not the only one on the field. We have to focus on all the players and make sure we go in as a team, we defend as a team, and we attack as a team. At the end of the day, the three points are more important to us."
Columbus is 3-3-3 all-time against NYCFC, all under the direction of Sporting Director & Head Coach Gregg Berhalter.
Columbus returns home on Saturday, July 21 to host Orlando City SC (6-11-1), who are 2-7-0 on the road this season, at 7:30 p.m. ET, before taking on the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on July 28.