A Gyasi Zardes goal was the lone strike in a surprising result as the Major League Soccer playoffs get under way.
New York, fresh off its last-day Supporters’ Shield victory, was held goalless in the first leg of its matchup against Columbus on Sunday. Bradley Wright-Phillips nearly netted a last-gasp equalizer that would have completely changed the complexity of the matchup, but New York instead heads back home with work to do.
The lone goal came in the 67th minute as Milton Valenzuela threaded a pinpoint pass to Federico Higuain who had come off the bench at halftime. The Crew star produced a fabulous assist, back-heeling to a streaking Zardes who finished one-on-one.
There were two moments late that could have defined the match. First, Luis Robles was there to produce a stop on Pedro Santos in the 89th minute that would have left New York with even more ground to make up back home. Then, in the 93rd minute, Wright-Phillips got his head to a wonderful Kaku delivery into the box and flicked the ball towards the corner, but Zack Steffan made a brilliant diving save to turn the effort away and preserve the victory.
New York was a significant favorite in the two-legged match, having clipped Atlanta United on the final day of the regular season for the most points in the league. They collected 22 wins over the course of the season, but struggled against Columbus, earning just a single point in their two meetings, including a 1-1 road draw and a 3-2 loss at Red Bull Arena in late July.
Columbus kept New York at bay by holding 58% of the possession and conceding just nine total shots, two on target. The home side generated just six shots of its own, but managed to put one of its two on target into the back of the net.