Both teams' alignments
Columbus started with a 4-2-3-1 formation which quickly changed to a 3-4-3/ 3-4-2-1 hybrid in possession, where the wingers tucked into the halfspaces. Pivot Wil Trapp dropped often between his two center backs, effectively building a back three.
With vertical passes to the tucked in wingers and the two number eights Columbus managed through following- up lay- offs to progress up the pitch. Some occasional underlapping runs by the full backs were also effective but were not used as frequently. An important role in the build up of the home side was goalie Clark who helped his team mates several times to evade the NYC press.
As a mean to generate scoring opportunities the Crew focused on breakthroughs in the half spaces and passes from there to the wing, where the high and forward running full backs tried to cross the ball into by the offensive players from Ohio dynamically occupied box.
During their press, which started high at the goal kick City's and was pretty effective (but in lower zones not as much), the Crew arragend themselves in a 4-4-2 formation. As mentioned their high press, triggered by the goal kick and for example back passes to center backs and the goalie, was highly effective and forced the New Yorkers to kick the ball out high several times. They accomplished that by using situational ball near man- orientations and closing up the half spaces effectively and cutting passing lanes to the eights from City.
When the light blues succeeded to get through the initial high press though, they managed to pick out Pirlo, and Lampard on some occasions, several times. Even though it was apparent that Columbus tried to hinder passes to Pirlo, they did not quite manage that. This was due to his superior positioning, as well as his world- class press resistance, which helped him to get out of high pressure situations several times. The Italian used first- touch switches to the side frequently to free up team mates on the ball far side.
The former World Cup winner was the main point in New York's build up. To free him up the New Yorker center backs split up very wide and circulated the ball in their first line with goalie Taylor very calmly, until they could find a pass to their playmaker. If this was not possible, they tried to find passes to the full backs, which often passed it with the first touch to Pirlo, who could now contribute to the circulation. Nominally NYCFC played in a 4-3-3 formation, but effectively they arranged themselfes in a 2-4-3-1 formation mostly, using Pirlo and Lampard as pivots in front of their back line.
NYC's press arranged itself in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-2-1 hybrid. Even though the guests tried to press relatively high up the pitch, it was not effective. This was due to the lack of intensity and vertical compactness, so Columbus was able to play through their first pressing line quite often. Using man- orientations, City often opened up spaces between each other and especially in front of their back line, which was used often by the Crew to play passes in between the lines and often freeing up their intelligently moving number ten Higuaín (not to be confused with a fat zebra). Also the push up of the center backs was not very well balanced and revealed spaces between them and their full backs quite often, so the home side managed to play through passes into their forward running full backs.
Crew dominating, as usual
Even though Columbus Crew is 9th in the Eastern Conference, they seemed at least on par with their table leaders NYCFC. Their well structured Positioning in possession allowed them to play through the intended high New Yorker press quite often and they managed to estabslish circulation in the midfield. Sometimes though they had orientation issues during their ballcontrols in between the lines, which caused them to playing the ball back or even losing it in times where they did not have to. The home side managed also to get the better goal scoring chances in the first half, in the first 20 minutes a Columbus lead was not that impossible, in fact they could have scored at least on one occasion. They lacked final precision after their several flat crosses into the box.
Because of the good build up game with a lot of laserpasses, especially from Parkhurst, the Crew often managed to play the ball forward quite easily. Good follow up actions, such as the aforementioned lay offs to the number eights and the full back, brought continuity, security and rhythm into the team of Gregg Berhalter (i know he's of irish decent, but don't try to tell me there's not a german/austrian grandfather somewhere in that family!). It has to be mentioned though that the NYC press wasnt the best, lacking in vertical compactness and exposing the space in between the lines a lot. Especially Higuaín knew to exploit these lacks in the defensive strcuture of the away side and played a good game, moving intelligently and being creative in his passing decisions.
Right after the break Columbus finally got their well deserved goal, Meram managed to head the ball in after a cross from the left side by Francis. Before that, the ohioans were able to circulate the ball easily in front of the away goal, not being pressured at all.
Though their game in possession still was very dependant on Pirlo and Lampard, with the latter being cut off well by the defensive structures of the Columbus Crew, the former though still managed to free himself up through intelligent movement quite a lot and was able to influence the attacks of his team. Often the home players moved okay in covering Pirlo, but the former Champions League winner is not an okay player, he is still world class.
Columbus getting more direct
With the clock running, the home side tried to get in behind the back of the City defence with occasional long balls, which were played well and were not used inflationary. Especially the runs of Kamara got picked up quite well by those passes and the City defenders were facing problemes once again. Due to their high, but pressure- less pressing passes in behind were easy to find. Additionally, goalie Taylor did not move up appropriately and the counterpress of City was weak too, leaving the ball winners on the Crew's side often without much pressure.
In the 79th Minute Columbus took the lead for the first time in the game after Meram picked out Finlay with a fine pass and the latter got fouled in the penalty area. The fouled one took responsibility and scored from the spot. The lead was not established for long though, as Pirlo took advantage of bad positioning from Naess and spotting Villas run in behind. The Italian trequartista chipped the ball over the Columbus defenders, the Spaniard controlled it beautifully with his left leg and finished with the right.
In the last minute of extra time Columbus managed to equalize again, as Finlay scored by rebound after a free kick from the flank.
The Crew is struggling the whole season already with dominating games but not getting the seemingly deserved results. Too often they receive unnecessary goals, like today. At least the 2:2 could have been prevented, with Naess not pushing up, because Pirlo was not under pressure when he got the ball.
New York showed how imporant it can be having two former Champions Leage and World Cup winners on their side, especially the aforementioned 2:2 goal was a collaboration of the genius of both.