New York City FC looks to set an overall club record by pushing their unbeaten streak to nine matches Saturday when they wrap up a four-game road swing versus a struggling Columbus Crew side without its top playmaker.
NYCFC’s 1-1 draw at Chicago last Saturday gave them four wins and four draws in their last eight matches, marking the first time in club history they have a single-season, eight-match unbeaten run. Alexandru Mitrita’s equalizer in the 40th minute secured a share of the points for the Pigeons (4-7-1), who did have a 280-minute shutout streak come to an end when C.J. Sapong beat Sean Johnson in the 28th minute.
Mitrita, given his first start in over a month by coach Dome Torrent, ripped a 25-yard shot for his third goal of the season, all of which have come in the seven matches he started.
“I think we’re happy we’re coming away with a point,” midfielder Tony Rocha told the club’s official website. “We’ve become more confident the more games we’ve played, and hopefully, we can start turning these ties into wins.”
New York City FC is carrying a five-match road unbeaten streak (3-2-0) into this contest and conceded just once in its last four matches outside Yankee Stadium. Mitrita, Heber, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi share the team lead with three goals, but NYCFC is tied for third in the MLS with only 13 goals allowed.
The fast start Columbus (5-1-9) enjoyed to start the season is a distant memory as the Crew are looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat and ninth in 10 matches overall. They are back home after back-to-back road defeats, including a 3-2 setback at Colorado last Saturday.
Pedro Santos ended a 237-minute goal drought for Columbus as he and Gyasi Zardes erased deficits on either side of halftime, but the Crew failed to hold out for a road point as they conceded on 85 minutes.
“We have talked a lot in recent weeks about the attack and how we can create more goals and score more goals,” Crew coach Caleb Porter told the club’s official website. “We have worked on that a lot and I think you saw a lot of good things in regard to our chance creation and we scored two goals. I did not think our defending was poor. It was just defending set pieces. That’s the main thing we have to address and defending in transition.”
The struggles, though, paled in comparison to the devastating news Friday that top playmaker Federico Higuain was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered against the Rapids. The 34-year-old has a goal and five assists and served as the focal point of Columbus’ build-up offensively.
Porter is also putting on emphasis on getting all three points from this game. Despite their recent swoon, the Crew are just two points behind the Chicago Fire for the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and only three back of NYCFC despite the latter’s lengthy unbeaten run.
“It is a six-point swing,” Porter added. “They have 19 points, we are on 16. So, we can literally go level with them and be above the playoff line. It is easy to lose sight of that. We have to keep perspective and understand that one-win turns everything.”
The home team won both matches last year, with Columbus rallying for a 2-1 victory in the most recent matchup as Harrison Afful and Justin Meram scored goals two minutes apart to overcome Tajouri-Shradi’s opener on 53 minutes.
The teams have split 11 all-time matches (4-3-4), with Columbus owning a 3-2-1 record at home in the series.
(Federico Higuain photo courtesy Columbus Crew SC official Twitter account)