Tuesday night’s defeat at MAPFRE Stadium brought up a lot of the same issues that New York City FC has faced for the better part of its first three seasons in Major League Soccer.
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Manager Patrick Vieira and his side conceded four goals in Columbus against the surging Crew in NYCFC’s 4-1 loss, which now puts the Eastern Conference regular season runners’ up at a distinct disadvantage heading into leg 2 on Sunday.
It’s not only a similar situation to that of a season ago — when NYCFC trailed Toronto FC by a scoreline of 2-0 heading into the home leg in the East semifinals — but actually worse considering the number of chances the Crew garnered in front of their home fans.
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Meanwhile, Vieira’s side simply wasn’t clinical enough when it came down to the critical moments of the match.
“We paid the price heavily tonight,” Vieira said following Tuesday’s defeat. “When you concede four goals away from home, you make things very difficult for yourselves.
“Of course, it is going to be a tough challenge, but it is a challenge that we are going to try to prepare ourselves for, and get ready for it.
“We’re gonna try. It will be really important to internalize the game tonight and come away with a plan of how to create chances and try not to concede.
“We’re going to give ourselves a good chance. Every time that we play them, we have the opportunity to score goals — not just one, but a few goals.”
NYCFC boasted one of the top attacks at times during the MLS regular season — led by captain David Villa and his 22 goals. However, the Spanish international has had little support in the attacking third for much of the second half of 2017, leaving Vieira’s squad vulnerable when they don’t cash in on goalscoring chances.
The team’s second-leading scorer, Jack Harrison, has scored just twice since the end of June, while the trio of Rodney Wallace, Maxi Moralez and Tommy McNamara have combined for four goals since May 21.
Over the last 10 games, including Tuesday’s loss, the Bronx side has scored just 10 goals — which by their standards is quite low. In comparison, Villa and Co. registered 47 finishes through their first 25 MLS matches this season.
With attacking players not named Villa struggling to find finishing opportunities as of late, NYCFC’s uphill climb just became that much more difficult when the club travels back home to host the Crew.
“In the last seven or eight games, when we were struggling to win games a little bit, the content of our game was there,” Vieira explained.
“It’s just, we don’t score goals. When you look at the number of chances we created in the first half, we didn’t take our chances.
“They took their chances and we didn’t take them. When you create so many chances and you only score once, it’s not good enough.”
Defensively, NYCFC didn’t make things easier for themselves after Alexander Callens was sent off seven minutes into the second half after raising an elbow to Crew attacker Justin Meram’s face prior to a corner kick.
Without Callens — who has previously started every match this season for NYCFC — Vieira’s group is left with a thin set of options at the back. First-choice center back Maxime Chanot remains sidelined with an injury, potentially leaving Fredrick Brillant, Ethan White and 16-year-old James Sands up for selection on Sunday.