New York City FC will try to stop the streaking Columbus Crew, specifically midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, when they play at Yankee Stadium on Friday.
The Crew (6-3-6, 24 points) have two wins and four ties in the past six games. The reigning MLS Cup champion is 5-1-4 in the past 10 games, with NYCFC (7-5-2, 23 points) being victimized twice by Zelarayan in that span.
On May 22 at New York City's temporary home, Red Bull Arena, he rallied the Crew with free kick goals in the 82nd and 95th minutes for a stunning 2-1 victory.
In the rematch at the Crew's new Lower.com Field on July 17, Zelarayan broke a 1-1 tie with another free kick score in the 62nd minute for a 2-1 win.
According to MLS, he is the first player in league history to score on three direct free kicks vs. the same opponent in one season since records became available in 2003.
Crew coach Caleb Porter knows Zelarayan, the MVP of the 2020 MLS Cup, is a not-so-secret weapon but understands the rest of the team needs to step up.
"We've been a bit fortunate in the first two games we played them," Porter said. "I think we got two results a little bit against the run. We need to play a bit better against them in this game if we're going to want to get another result against them."
NYCFC has the advantage this time of playing on the narrower baseball field, as evidenced by its 5-0 rout of Orlando City on Sunday that boosted confidence.
"Everything is about culture," NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said. "A winning culture is preparing every game the same whatever result we get, working on details and wanting to get better.
"We have a team that everybody is going in the right direction, and we have depth to use the squad."
Said Porter, "We're going to have our hands full."
--Field Level Media