(Kwadwo Poku ( top row, 2nd from left) and NYC FC – Photo by Mike Lawrence)
Kwadwo Poku scored twice to lead New York City Football Club to a 2-2 tie on the road against the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night.
This was another big performance for Poku, after he had a goal and an assist in last Thursday’s win over DC United.
NYC FC Head Coach Jason Kreis said of the play of Poku, “He’s an important player for us right now. Making critical plays for us in the attacking half of the field, so I’m really, really pleased with that. But I also know there’s still improvement to be made defensively.”
On takeaways from tonight’s game moving forward, Kreis said, “I think that we need to feel good about the fact that we got one point in a very difficult place to play against what I think is a very good team. To come back from being down a goal in the first half again, shows our guys that we can do it, that we can play. I think there was a lot of really good soccer out there tonight, so I feel good about it and hopefully the players do as well.”
New York City FC improve to 7-11-7 with 28 points, and are now level with Orlando City SC and Montreal Impact for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They trail Toronto by three points for the sixth and final playoff spot. The Crew are in third place with a 9-8-8 record with 35 points.
Columbus got the scoring started in the 24th minute when Ethan Finlay drove down the right side and crossed the ball to Kei Kamara in the middle and he buried it to make it 1-0. Kamara extended his league-leading tally to 18 goals on the season.
Columbus took that 1-0 lead into halftime, as their defense was stifling, and barely gave NYC any chances. Andrea Pirlo and David Villa were shut down for the most part.
In the 57th minute, Villa came down the left side and found Poku at the top of the box, and Poku flicked it with his right foot past Columbus goalie Steve Clark and it snuck inside the right post to tie it at 1.
In the 67th, Pirlo took a corner kick and fired it into the box to Andrew Jacobson on the left side, and he dropped it on to Poku at the top center of the box. Poku fired a rocket for his second goal of the night to make it 2-1 NYC FC.
Poku said of the level of confidence in his game, “Good. That’s why I am in there, to create and score some goals, so it has been good.”
On why he has been playing so well as of late, Poku said, “Just working with these players around me has given me confidence. I have the ability and I can do it, so I should keep going.”
The lead didn’t last long. In the 72nd minute, Cedrick Mabwati came down the center of the field past NYC defender Jefferson Mena. He dropped it to his right to Kei Kamara at the top of the box, and he dropped it back to Mabwati, who was left open by NYC defender Andoni Iraola. Mabwati blasted it to tie the game at 2.
That play highlighted all the issues with the NYC FC defense, as Mena and Iraola are their weak links. They were both acquired in July and supplanted R.J. Allen, who played well since joining the team in May. Allen started last week against DC and he should have had the same spot again tonight. This defense also has missed Chris Wingert, who was ruled out for three straight games with a hamstring injury and was eligible for this one, but did not get in.
The game was halted in the 77th minute due to lightning in the area and there was a delay of nearly an hour. When the teams returned, neither had any momentum, so the game ended uneventfully.
Kreis said of the delay, “Yeah, I think it was a little bit unfortunate, but I think you can look at the flip side of that and say that they had just scored the second goal so perhaps the momentum was on their side. So I honestly don’t think it was a benefit to either team, although I wasn’t really pleased by the way my team finished the game.”
NYC FC goalie Josh Saunders said of the importance of getting a point in Columbus, “Yeah obviously it’s huge for us, Because that puts us pretty much right on the line of the team above us, I think they’re one point ahead of us, so anytime you can come from behind on the road and get a point out of it is great. Obviously we had a chance to win the game, but we’ll take the result. Moving into another road game, a four-point road trip would be amazing. So we look to go after LA when we get there, buttonight we’ll take the result. I thought Poku was excellent, I thought our movement in the second half was great, they capitalized on a couple plays and we look to improve on that.”
Saunders said of the rain delay, “Actually here in 2010, we had a rain delay. Came back out and the game was tied and we ended up losing.”
On the defense’s performance, Saunders said, “Yeah I thought they did a really good job, I thought we had a couple really good performances at times, and then there was a couple tackles that J (Jason Hernandez) made late on in the game that were great. He came out after the delay and played excellent, I thought he pushed us through it.”