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Snap Judgments: 2017 MLS Playoffs (NYCFC vs. Columbus Crew SC, 11.05.17)

Robert Cole/ALOST
Frustrations boiled over for Rodney Wallace (r.) and NYCFC in the second half, as Crew defender Josh Williams and his teammates did just enough in the Big Apple on Sunday to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. (Robert Cole/ALOST)

 

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

NEW YORK — There will definitely be at least one more Major League Soccer game in Columbus.

Columbus Crew SC made sure of that Sunday night, doing just enough to protect a three-goal lead after their Eastern Conference semifinals first leg game against New York City Football Club, losing tonight’s game 2-0 in Yankee Stadium but winning the tie 4-3 on aggregate. Columbus advances to the Eastern Conference Final, where it will take on the top seed, Toronto FC.

Hanging over the team for a month has been the speculation that the team will move to Austin, Tex. after the 2018 season, suspicion confirmed when owner Anthony Precourt released a statement in the middle of October that relocation would be the course of action if a downtown arena in Columbus was not built. As much as each player could try to put that distraction on the back burner and play soccer, chants of “Save The Crew” at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus and in away venues from Crew supporters continue to ring loud at each game. That crowd support helped the Crew jump on NYCFC in the first leg in Columbus, especially in the second half, as Columbus cruised to a dominant 4-1 win.

Hoping to close up shop defensively, the Crew conceded a penalty in the 16th minute on a Josh Williams hand ball in the box. David Villa stepped up to the spot and scored past Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen, giving NYCFC supporters life and hope that a miraculous comeback was in the offing.

That happened to be the only goal in the first half, but, once again, NYCFC started the second half the way they started the first: on the front foot. The early goal NYCFC needed in the second half to provide realistic hopes of completing the comeback came in the 53rd minute, when a long-range effort from defender Andraz Struna struck the head of Columbus defender Jonathan Mensah and careened into the back of his own net.

Columbus created no gilt-edged chances in the second half as NYCFC piled on the pressure. In the 66th minute, NYCFC midfielder Jack Harrison made a move and sped past Mensah to create a 2-on-1 opportunity. Instead of passing, Harrison took on the shot, which was saved by the right leg of Steffen. Just a few minutes later, midfielder Rodney Wallace’s left-footed effort from just inside the box struck the outside of the post and out of play.

NYCFC threw on Italian soccer legend Andrea Pirlo and striker Sean Okoli in the final few minutes to try and create one last chance, one that never did materialize.

Columbus now advances to the Eastern Conference Final, where they will play at home against a Toronto FC side that will not have strikers Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco for the first leg in Columbus. Altidore was sent off with a red card in Toronto’s second-leg game against the New York Red Bulls, while Giovinco will sit due to yellow card accumulation after picking up a yellow card in the same game.

*Editor’s note: Above the story is the photo gallery from Sunday’s game, with all photos taken by our senior photographer, Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 32 pictures in total.

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