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What to watch for: 5 keys as the Columbus Crew, NYCFC battle Monday night

When Columbus Crew SC visit NYCFC on Monday night at Red Bull Arena, the latter's recent home away from home, there's plenty to watch for.

Here are five key areas for this Eastern Conference clash, which also serves as a rematch of a 1-0 Week 1 win for Columbus way back in early March (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada).

Neutral site

The majority of regular-season games during Phase 1 are being played without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though clubs still get to enjoy home-field confines. That's not the case for NYCFC, who are yet to play at Yankee Stadium in 2020 and instead have shifted to Red Bull Arena, home of their Hudson River Derby rival New York Red Bulls, due to the New York Yankees congested schedule in MLB's restart. 

Without the tight on-field dimensions of Yankee Stadium, the Cityzens are left searching for three points on a larger playing surface. Perhaps that could favor Columbus, since Caleb Porter's team loves to spread the ball around with intricate passing patterns.

No. 10s

We all look to the No. 10 role for creativity, though some question marks surround that spot for both clubs. Lucas Zelarayan, the Crew's marquee offseason signing, missed his team's 3-0 win Thursday over the Chicago Fire through injury. As for NYCFC talisman Maxi Moralez, he was similarly absent from their 1-0 loss against the Red Bulls last Thursday evening.  

If the Argentine playmakers aren't fit enough to feature, this game will lose some final-third spice. Zelarayan has three goals and two assists in his first five MLS games, while Moralez has double-digit assists each of the last two seasons.

Quick turnaround

The Phase 1 schedule is jam-packed, which could see managers rotate their squads to maximize freshness. Both teams only had Friday through Sunday to prepare, and there's also the travel factor for Columbus.

Given the quick turnaround from Thursday to Monday, perhaps the Crew will call upon someone like midfielder Sebastian Berhalter or DP attacker Alexandru Mitrita returns to the NYCFC starting lineup. Either way, fitness will be tested – something they're accustomed to after the MLS is Back Tournament.

Desperation?

NYCFC are 1-5 so far under head coach Ronny Deila, with four of those five defeats coming by a 1-0 scoreline. That has the Cityzens rock bottom in the Eastern Conference standings, a stark reality for a club that in 2019 trailed just LAFC for the Supporters' Shield with 64 points. Deila's group has to reverse course sooner rather than later, with the condensed 2020 season providing fewer opportunities to engineer an about-face.

As Matt Doyle highlighted in his "Big Question" column ahead of the latest restart, Heber continues to labor in front of goal. The Brazilian striker, who found net 15 times in MLS a season ago, remains scoreless in league play in 2020.

Magical moment

The Crew currently lead the Eastern Conference with a 5-0-1 record, as the pieces under Porter and president/GM Timothy Bezbatchenko are coming together nicely. One key piece to the puzzle is midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who provided an early Goal of the Year favorite in Columbus' 3-0 dispatch of the Fire last week.

You'll want to watch the below goal on repeat, which showed the magic Nagbe can conjure up. His tireless work rate and passing rhythm seldom waver, too.  


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