Beating Columbus on Sunday night was a terrific way for New York City FC’s to close out their second season. Not only did it solidify a bye week as they entered the playoffs, but it also provided some valuable learnings as they enter those playoffs. We identified four – which just happens to be one for each goal they scored. (Funny how that worked out, huh?)
Four Things NYCFC Can Learn From Beating Columbus
There is a special chemistry between Jack Harrison and Frank Lampard
For 70 minutes, Jack Harrison hustled and ran and fought like a terrier. But he always came up a half a yard short, turned left when he should have turned right, waited when he should have attacked, passed when he should have shot. For all his effort and hustle and determination, he was always slightly off. The kid’s frustration was palpable.
And then Frank Lampard came on for Andrea Pirlo, and in the span of the short nine minutes they were on the pitch together, Harrison scored one goal (with an assist by Lampard) and assisted on another (Khiry Shelton’s 77th minute effort).
Now Harrison has spoken often of how valuable the advice Lampard gave him when they were rehabbing together was. And Lampard has been equally complimentary of Harrison’s talent, skill and work ethic. But players often talk like that about each other to the press (except…). That “Mutual Admiration Society” aside, it cannot be denied that each makes the other better on the pitch. They understand each other’s games intuitively and provide a dimension to the side that is more than the sum of its parts. Some of us recognized that before beating Columbus, but NYCFC would be wise to remember it.
Sometimes you can be a second half team
No one who sat through the first 45 minutes would have expected what he got out of the second 45. From the opening kickoff NYCFC played, as they often have, down to the level of their opponents. Thus a match that, on paper should have been walk-over became a nail-biter as passes went wide, runs unfulfilled, shots untaken. It looked like October 16th against D.C. United again.
And then, just as the prospect of City hosting a mid-week match against the Philadelphia Union looked a very real possibility, Steven Mendoza scored his fifth goal of the season at the 45 minute mark, and everything began to change.
Which is odd, really, because before beating Columbus, NYCFC were not only a better first half than a second half team, they were a better first half team than more than half the league.
But you explain that to Jack Harrison and Khiry Shelton and David Villa.
On second thought, don’t.
Past performance is not an indication of future earnings
Before beating Columbus on Sunday, NYCFC had never beaten the Crew. Two losses and two draws in their previous four meetings. And yet, on Sunday, they finally beat the only team in the East from whom they had never taken three points. Heck, City even beat the New York Red Bulls before beating Columbus. So remember, just because you haven’t done something before doesn’t mean you won’t now.
But more than that. Look at the stats. NYCFC had less possession, less passing success percentage, fewer touches as a team and fewer shots. And yet they won. What does this tell us? That even when NYCFC are not playing their game, not performing the way they usually do, they can still win.
Now you may say, “Sure, but they were playing Columbus – a team we would describe as ‘hapless’ if that term weren’t already copyrighted by the Chicago Fire. And every team they will face from here on out will be substantially better.” And that’s fair. So to be clear, I am not advocating that NYCFC stop playing the way that has gotten them to the playoffs. I’m just observing that they might be more flexible and adaptable than they have been in the past, and that we might not need to panic when they don’t dominate play.
There’s no place like home
Yes, NYCFC have the best road record in Major League Soccer. And yes, their first playoff game will be on the road. And yes, even if they run all the way to the final, it is highly likely they will finish the season away from Yankee Stadium.
But for those two, (maybe three?) more home games NYCFC has left, one has to believe that no one wants to face them in the Bronx. And not only because of the, shall we say, “peculiar” dimensions and idiosyncratic pitch.
But because of the fans.
The NYCFC fans create an energy for the team and an atmosphere that is palpable in Yankee Stadium and distinctive in MLS. It is undoubtedly one of the reasons that NYCFC are now undefeated in their last six home matches – a run which belies their 14th best home record in MLS.
Beating Columbus on Sunday was a good way to remind them of that.
The rest of the league might want to remember it too.