NEW YORK – Columbus Crew SC enter the Eastern Conference Semifinals as the hottest team in MLS carrying an 11-game unbeaten streak in Tuesday’s first leg against New York City FC at MAPFRE Stadium (8 pm ET; ESPN in the US | TSN1/4/5, TVAS in Canada).
NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira isn’t at all surprised by Columbus’ run of success.
Vieira has admired the way Crew SC play since he took the NYCFC job ahead of the 2016 season, and got a firsthand glimpse of their impressive form in NYCFC’s 2-2 draw with Columbus at Citi Field on Decision Day.
“They’ve been really consistent in the way they play the game,” Vieira said. “I’m not surprised they are doing really well, and they are in a really good period because of the way they are playing the games. When you play well and you take your chances you always have more chances to win games than the opposition team.”
Being clinical in the attacking third has been huge for Columbus in their late-season turnaround. Crew SC last lost on Aug. 5 at San Jose; they dropped five of seven matches from late May through early August.
“I think they always play some really good football,” Vieira said. “I think when you look at the time when they went through a difficult period during the season, it’s just because they didn’t take their chances.”
From the time he first entered MLS, Vieira has praised the way Gregg Berhalter’s side have played, a possession-based attacking style similar to NYCFC. He’s often said Columbus is one of his favorite teams in the league to watch.
“What I love about Columbus is the collective game,” Vieira said. “When the collective is good that allows the individual to show how good they are. Then of course, you have players like [Federico] Higuain, who is one of the best players in the league. When he’s good, Columbus looks good.”
Higuain has looked great of late. He registered seven assists in the Crew’s final four regular season games, including two in the second half of that 2-2 draw in Queens on Decision Day. NYCFC will take plenty of lessons from that match.
“What will be important for us is to be much better defensively, especially in the second half,” Vieira said. “I think what is really important for us is to stop them getting possession of the ball. This is why it would be important for us to be more compact than we were in the second half last time we played them. We have to be a little bit smarter when we are defending.”
Vieira also believes Crew SC will get a boost from talk of the club’s possible move to Austin. He expects that to be a rallying cry and a galvanizing force for the team in what should be a charged environment at MAPFRE Stadium.
“Of course, there’s no doubt about it. I’m 100 percent sure the coach, the players, they are all going to use it to unite them,” Vieira said. “What is important for us is to focus on what is going on the field and try to play our normal game, but this is the tools Gregg is going to use for the team for sure.”