MLS Playoffs: Will New York City FC Advance To Eastern Final?
New York City FC vs Columbus Crew Picks
The fourth and final MLS semi-final between New York and Columbus is set to be an intense affair, and a difficult one to predict. The match will be played over two legs, starting with Tuesday night's game in Columbus and followed by the return fixture in New York City on Sunday, November 5th. We discuss the chances of each team, provide our fearless prediction and an in-depth analysis of each team - make sure you read this before placing a wager!
Columbus have been in red hot form - undefeated in their last eleven matches thanks to a potent strike force and a goalkeeper that keeps coming up with match-saving performances. They will be tough to beat in front of an emotional home crowd at MAPFRE Stadium, and will travel to Yankee Stadium full of confidence against a New York side that are out of form and potentially still scarred from their 2016 postseason meltdown.
Go for Columbus in this one, and read on for our full analysis of the upcoming tie.
New York City FC vs Columbus Crew Preview
It will feel a little like deja vu all over again for New York City FC as they enter the semi-finals as second seed in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive season. The team from the Bronx will be confident after notching up sixteen regular season victories, one more than they managed in 2016, although just like last year they will face a team who has won in the knockout round and will bring plenty of momentum into the clash.
Instead of Toronto FC, they will be facing Columbus in their two-legged tie starting Tuesday night, although there are plenty of similarities. Both the 2016 Reds and the 2017 Crew finished their regular seasons with a surge, losing just three times in the second half of the campaign, and Toronto FC of course entered the semi-final fixture against New York as the underdog, which is exactly what the Crew will do in this matchup.
Hopefully NYC have learned from last year - they were of course blown off the park by Toronto, losing 2-0 away and 5-0 at home, while their neighbours from the north pushed on to their first MLS Cup appearance. The Crew will be hoping lighting does strike twice for the favourites as they look to match their 2015 form and reach their second MLS Cup final in three seasons.
New York FC had a great regular season, it has to be said. Their record of 16-9-9 matched that of the New York Red Bulls in 2016, which was good enough to see their rivals finish first in the conference. Their tally could have been even higher going into the playoffs if not for some indifferent form towards the end of the season. Only one win in their last seven matches cost them a shot of keeping pace with Toronto FC, and sees them out of form heading into this tie.
Columbus by comparison have been amazing in the backend of the season. Their final ten matches yielded six wins and no defeats, while their playoff encounter against Atlanta United was one of the most epic battles seen in the MLS this year. Aside from a goal, the match had absolutely everything, and the performance by goalkeeper Zack Steffen against the second highest scorers in the MLS was outstanding.
The Crew will return to MAPFRE Stadium on a high after their penalty-shootout victory, although there will be plenty of emotion when they return to play in front of their home fans; this could be the last time they play in Columbus according to the revelation that owner Anthony Precourt is exploring the option to move the team to Austin in 2018. The players will have to dig deep to ensure that they at least have one more match at home.
This type of fixture seems to occur in every MLS Playoff campaign - one team has earned the right to a week off in the first round, in spite of a mediocre finish to the season, while the other team has surged to the postseason and carries irresitible form and momentum that looks to be too much for the 'better team'. It is certainly looking the case in this fixture, and New York will have a fight on their hands to make sure they don't exit the playoffs in the same fashion as last year.
But is it a simple case of rest against results? Will putting the feet up for a week help or hinder FC? Will 120 mins of football and the emotional drain of a penalty shootout within four days of their next match be too much for the Crew to overcome? While we won't be able to answer these questions until kickoff, we can certainly analyse the statistics of both teams and look at their head to head record to try and separate the sides.
New York City FC
The first of the two matches in this tie will be played at MAPFRE Stadium, and while the aforementioned circumstances will mean it will be a very tough place to get a result, New York are one of the best candidates in the league to do so. Their away form in the regular season was second only to Toronto FC in the MLS, and it's pretty obvious to note that without the 22 points earned on the road they would not be in their current position.
Only three teams in the league managed to finish their regular season without a negative goal differential, and New York was one of them, and they will need to bring their best to Columbus in order to return to Yankee Stadium with the upper hand. New York managed ten wins and just two losses at home this season, so will be confident of progression if they manage to avoid defeat in Ohio.
Scoring goals in 2017 was scarcely a problem for New York, thanks to the form of talisman David Villa. The Spanish veteran scored 21 in the regular season and is the highest scorer of the teams that remain in the playoffs now that Nemanja Nikolic's Chicago Fire have been eliminated. His record of 0.77 goals per match is the second-highest in the MLS for players who have played at least ten matches, so expect a goal in this tie.
The Crew also boast a prolific frontman of their own in Ola Kamara - the Norwegian international scored an impressive eighteen goals in 2017. His combination with Justin Meram (13 goals and 7 assists) and Federico Higuain (nine goals and 14 assists) has been impressive, and the performances of the trio in this tie will be crucial to their success given that they accounted for over 75% of their teams goals this season.
Columbus sat sixth and ninth respectively in terms of home and away form. Their twelve wins at home is an impressive statistic, but they will also be mindful of their inability to score goals away from MAPFRE Stadium - in total they managed just 19 from seventeen starts. A convincing win in the first leg will allow them to go to Yankee Stadium with a defensive mindset, similar to their game against Atlanta, so you can be sure they'll come out firing.
Head to Head Record
There have been plenty of goals in the previous meetings between these teams - 32 in just seven meetings and no shutouts - and the fans at MAPFRE Stadium have been treated to an incredible 20 goals in four meetings between the sides. This will be the first time they meet in the playoffs, however, so it will be interesting to see how the pressure of postseason football affects this high-scoring record. Overall, the sides are evenly split with two wins a-piece and three draws.
In 2017, the pair faced-off on two occasions, and it was New York who claimed the aggregate victory. They first met in Ohio in April with FC claiming a 3-2 victory after trailing 2-1 at one stage. The return fixture was played less than two weeks ago on Decision Day - the teams split the points 2-2 and again it was Zack Steffen who saved the day with a stoppage-time penalty save.
NYC and Columbus will contest over two matches, so there are several different betting options available. You will be able to place a bet on each individual match as you normally would, with all three full-time results (win, loss and draw) available.
Most sportsbooks will also allow you to place a wager on which team will progress to the next round - this will be a simple head-to-head bet with only two outcomes.
It looks like there will be plenty of goals in this one, so it may be worthwhile betting on the 'both teams to score' line which normally offers quite good value.
Make sure you take a look at all of our betting partners and explore the lines on offer. As always, we will keep you up to date with all the latest and provide ongoing support.
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