A quick glance at NYCFC’s schedule reveals a club in poor form, with just one win from their final seven regular season matches. Patrick Vieira sees things differently, however, claiming his team is playing the right way even if they went 1-2-4 down the stretch.
“There are two ways at looking at the games. It’s about the result, of course, and then regarding how we play,” Vieira said. “I think we didn’t have the results we were hoping, but I think when you look at the way we’ve been playing, of course we can play better than we have been lately, but overall we have a good level.”
Even though NYCFC won just twice in the final two months of the regular season and scored more than one goal only once, the club still managed to snag the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference and secure a bye into the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They’ll play the first leg of their series against Columbus Crew SC in Ohio on Tuesday night (8 pm ET; ESPN in the US | TSN1/4/5, TVAS in Canada).
“We have goals on this team and one of the goals was to finish as high as possible and we ended up with the second spot,” said winger Rodney Wallace. “Some results didn’t go the way we wanted, but in the end we accomplished something we wanted to.”
In contrast to NYCFC, Columbus enter the series as the hottest team in the league. Crew SC, who played NYCFC to a 2-2 draw at Citi Field on Decision Day, are unbeaten in their last 11 matches following their stunning shootout victory at Atlanta in the Knockout Round on Thursday night.
But is late-season form all that important? A year ago, NYCFC won three of their final four games of the regular season to secure the No. 2 seed in the postseason. They were then blasted by Toronto FC 7-0 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
What is critical, though, is that NYCFC is finally fully healthy as they prep for Columbus. Costa Rican fullback Ronald Matarrita has come off the substitute’s bench in each of NYCFC’s last two games and is fully training after missing three months with a broken foot. Luxembourg international Maxime Chanot has been sidelined since the middle of July after undergoing bilateral sports hernia surgery in August, but is now healthy.
Of course, that leads to difficult lineup decisions. Matarrita and Chanot were regular starters before their injuries, but since then Ben Sweat and Frederic Brillant have done a formidable job in their stead.
Does Vieira immediately insert Matarrita and Chanot or does he keep the continuity of a relatively unchanged backline over the last few months?
“We have everybody back so this is really positive for me,” Vieira said. “When you have everyone, everyone is performing at their level because everybody wants to play, that raises the performance of the players. That’s what the job of selecting the starting XI is going to be really difficult.”