PURCHASE, N.Y. – For Jason Kreis and New York City FC, the playoffs start now.
“We believe we have eight cup finals in front of us and tomorrow is the first one and the only one right now,” the NYCFC head coach said ahead of Saturday’s critical match against Columbus Crew SC at Yankee Stadium (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
NYCFC will likely be buoyed on Saturday by the return of Frank Lampard, who has been hampered this summer first by a calf and then by a quad injury. The 37-year-old Englishman pushed himself to get back for the third derby match against the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 9, but suffered a setback during his 86-minute performance at Red Bull Arena and hasn’t played in the three games since.
“He’s trained fully all week and he’s in contention to start,” Kreis said.
“He and I collectively made the wrong decision there and probably should have got him out at 60 minutes regardless of the score. But it’s for a good reason,” Kreis added. “We’re both very competitive. We both want things to turn around here quickly and we both want to make the playoffs.”
Kreis said he expects Lampard to raise the level of those playing around him, similar to NYCFC’s two other Designated Players, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. And, as a former captain of Chelsea and England, Lampard is another valuable leader in the locker room and on the field.
“Now we add another piece and see if all the players now can all look collectively better and we can have a better tactical identity for our team,” Kreis said.
Part of that tactical identity is getting players in advanced positions to help Villa when he gets the ball. That didn’t happen in Sunday’s 5-1 loss at the red-hot LA Galaxy.
“It’s something we continually talk about, to not have our midfielders drop so deep to have to defend,” Kreis said. “Often times they’re as deep as the back four. That can’t be right because when the ball turns over, we need to be able to play forward.”
Villa addressed the situation with some pointed comments after Sunday’s game, but Kreis said his captain was “misinterpreted” and the translation that made the rounds on Twitter incorrectly painted him as someone frustrated by the level of the players around him.
“He was saying tactically he needed more players in advanced position to help him when he got the ball,” Kreis said. “I absolutely 100 percent agree.”
This is the second time in less than two weeks NYCFC is facing Crew SC after the teams played to a 2-2 draw in Columbus on Aug. 19. In that game, Kreis said his team enjoyed long spells of possession, but didn’t come away with enough to show for it.
“The one thing that has to happen when you have these positive momentums at the beginning of games is you have to score,” Kreis said. “You have to reward yourself and put yourself and put yourself in a positive position you should be in when you play that well.”
Defensively, Kreis said he wants to see his team be a bit calmer when they don’t have the ball and play with more grit inside their own 18-yard box.
“We have to be closer to our marks in our box,” Kreis said. “When balls are served in, our defenders have to be a little meaner and tougher.”
More than anything, though, NYCFC is in desperate need of three points. The expansion side is currently in seventh-place in the Eastern Conference, level on points with sixth-place Montreal, but having played four more matches than the Impact.
They like their chances to gain on the Impact on Saturday, against a familiar Columbus team that NYCFC is comfortable playing against.
“We know their style and how they play,” midfielder Mix Diskerud said of Crew SC. “They play good soccer so it’s going to be fun. We need the win and we’re going to win.”