As Nick Chavez reminded me recently on a recent NYCFC Fan Podcast, if someone had offered you, in say March, New York City FC finishing the season in second place, you would have taken it in a heartbeat. And to take that a step further, if someone had offered you third place, you’d have taken that too, no questions asked.
So as we prepare for the final regular season match of NYCFC’s second season, against the Columbus Crew, one has to wonder if there’s really anything to worry about any more. We made the playoffs! That which ostensibly got Jason Kreis sacked has been overcome! Time for everyone to kick back and relax, right?
Well, no. Because NYCFC must beat the Crew on Sunday.
The who? The why? What the what?
Who are these guys, anyway?
Because we’re talking about Columbus, right? The poster boys for season-ending implosion. The guys who were in the finals last year. Who had the runner-up for the league MVP. Who were primed to come back this season and destroy the East. And who instead spend much of 2016 wandering around in a daze. How much of a daze? How’s this: If they lose to NYCFC on Sunday, they’ll finish this season with fewer points than NYCFC had last season. Heck, if they lose on Sunday, the Crew will finish the season with fewer points then they’ve had in almost a decade. Which is why my bet is that they are so ready to see the back end of this season that they may even leave the motor running on the bus during the match to save time to the airport when that final whistle is blown.
So why worry, right?
Because first, NYCFC and the Columbus Crew have taken exactly the same number of points out of their last five matches. Three wins, a draw and two losses.
And second, because these two teams have scored exactly the same number of goals in their last five matches.
Yet during that span, Columbus has given up two fewer goals than NYCFC.
But lastly, because, of course, NYCFC have never beaten the Columbus Crew. In four previous matches, the Crew have taken points each time – two wins, two draws. NYCFC, not so much.
That has to end on Sunday.
Why NYCFC must beat the Crew
If NYCFC win, they secure second place in the Eastern Conference. Which means a first round bye – which means that Frank Lampard has more time to fully rehab his calf. And if you don’t think a fully fit Frank is central to NYCFC’s success, please review his 12 goals, or remind yourself that NYCFC has 8 wins, 4 draws and only 3 losses when he starts.
But NYCFC must beat the Crew on Sunday because they are not the only two teams playing. And while I mean no disrespect to my friends in Chicago (where I just spent a lovely weekend watching my cousin tie the knot. Congratulations, Jeff and Laura), I don’t think I’d be the only person in North America who would be shocked if Toronto FC lost to the Chicago Fire. A Toronto FC loaded with Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore against a Chicago Fire with, um David Accam.
If Toronto win, then NYCFC must beat the Crew, because if they don’t, NYCFC will slip into third place, and find themselves on the pitch at Yankee Stadium only a few days after the Columbus match, hosting the Philadelphia Union or the Impact de Montreal in a one game, play-in, do-or-die match.
Which is, frankly, another reason NYCFC must beat the Crew. So the team has two games in which to make their mark and not just one. Because anything can happen in just one game.
Now sure, you may say I’m over reacting. You may say “Hey, NYCFC have one loss in their last five matches (because you can’t count the Necaxa friendly). And they haven’t lost at home since June. Sure, the D.C. United match was disappointing, but that’s just one match. Lighten up.”
And that’s fair. But here’s perhaps the most important reason NYCFC must beat the Crew on Sunday. A reason that has nothing to do with who they play or when they play, or who else is playing, or recovery time, or health or well-being.
It has to do with pride.
NYCFC must beat the Crew on Sunday because, as my brother Andrew reminds me, New York teams do not go gentle into that dark night. They fight against the dying of the light. That was what David Villa was trying to say at last year’s season-ender when he stood at midfield and apologized – for the season, the game, for the team.
Last year they did not have that fight. This year they have. Which is why NYCFC must beat the Crew – if for no other reason than to remind themselves of that fact.