Rewind: Winning First Impressions in Columbus

Herrera Columbus Crew SC

New York City FC’s MLS Playoffs fate is known.

The Boys in Blue will travel to Columbus following The Crew’s penalty shootout victory over Atlanta United on Thursday night, setting up a two-legged showdown between the teams who met on Decision Day at Citi Field.

It could hardly be any more of an intriguing matchup, considering the playing styles of the two sides and the two epic encounters they’ve served up in 2017.

The meeting in April was especially significant for NYCFC as it marked the debuts of two players who have gone on to become staples in the XI during this run to the second seeding for the postseason, Yangel Herrera and Ben Sweat.

READ:NYCFC to Face Columbus Crew SC in the Eastern Conference semifinals

Herrera arrived on loan from sister club Manchester City FC in the offseason but had to be patient in waiting for his first MLS start, while Sweat had joined after a successful preseason trial and, poetically, made his first MLS appearance against the team which drafted him two years previously.

Both would leave their indelible marks on a topsy-turvy encounter which would be remembered as one of 2017’s most entertaining matches.

Missing the illness-stricken David Villa, NYCFC flew out of the blocks and took the early lead on 7’ when Jack Harrison weighed in with his third goal of the young campaign, chipping delightfully over the onrushing Zack Steffen.

However, that lead would not last long…

The Crew flexed their attacking potential to overturn the deficit with goals on either side of half-time from Federico Higuain and Ola Kamara, leaving City chasing the game at the MAPFRE Stadium.

When the equalizer came, it was from a combination between the two new boys, Herrera and Sweat, as Ben served up the cross for our Venezuelan midfielder to bravely rise up and head into the bottom corner.

Herrera required treatment after the clash of heads but he had notched his first MLS goal on his first start and Sweat had his first assist.

NYCFC didn’t stop there but began to dictate the game once more, with the Man of the Match Maxi Moralez pulling the strings behind Sean Okoli who was also making his first start.

When the winning goal came for the road team, it arrived as a result of great high-pressing from the two goalscorers, Harrison and Herrera.

Yangel was the one to pickpocket the last defender and the loose ball fell kindly for Jack to bundle past Steffen, ensuring that Patrick Vieira’s side would go on to clinch a first-ever win in Ohio and back-to-back victories over Columbus for the first time in club history.

Harrison was named MLS Player of the Week after scoring the first brace of his pro career, while Herrera earned his callup to the Venezuela U-20 squad for the World Cup off the back of his sterling showing.

READ: Five Things We Learned from the 2017 Regular Season

With our upcoming Playoffs clash in mind, our 3-2 win also kept the average goal tally in this fixture pushing up towards five-per-game, meaning when these sides meet, you can usually guarantee explosive entertainment.

But perhaps the most defining aspect of the match, when we think about how NYCFC’s Regular Season panned out, was our first introductions to two men who went on to become such key contributors to our second place finish, Yangel Herrera and Ben Sweat.

Reflecting on his debut in the U.S, Herrera said: “I feel super happy for the game we had and the three points we managed to get over here as visitors.”

“We’re going home really happy and really calm. The team and I are going to continue the victory and we’re going to keep working to stay on top.”

For Sweat, it was a game with extra significance as he made his MAPFRE Stadium return and one he wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

Ben told “It was huge for me – a little bittersweet coming back but to be part of that performance, it was really exciting.

“Whether we’re home or away, we bring the same intensity – I think it’s going to be a fantastic year.”

He sure wasn’t wrong on that last point.

Who will be the heroes in the next rendition of the NYCFC vs. Columbus rivalry? You’ll have to wait until this coming Tuesday in Ohio or on November 5 at Yankee Stadium to find out… Get your tickets for the home leg below!

Rewind: Winning First Impressions in Columbus -