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NYCFC can't overcome early red card, falls to Columbus Crew SC in MLS season opener

Maxime Chanot #4 of New York City FC

Maxime Chanot #4 of New York City FC reacts after his red card in the third minute of their game against the Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium on March 01, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: Getty Images/Emilee Chinn

New York City FC coach Ronny Deila was handed a test early in his first Major League Soccer experience on Sunday.

Just three minutes into NYCFC’s MLS season opener at Columbus Crew SC, Maxime Chanot put his new boss Deila to work, picking up a red card by denying Lucas Zelarayán a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

With the prospect of 87 minutes of man-down soccer to play, Deila made a handful of tactical changes but didn’t find the right combination as NYCFC fell to the Crew, 1-0, to kick off its sixth season of play.

Crew striker Zelaryán, a marquee acquisition from Mexican side Tigres UANL, scored the match’s only goal in the 56th minute, receiving a pass inside the box and beating City captain Alexander Ring before firing a hard curling shot past  goalie Sean Johnson into the top corner on the far side.

Any plans Deila had for City’s opener went immediately out the window when Chanot was shown the third red card of his MLS career in the third minute. The center back was caught on the wrong side chasing Zelarayán on the break and clipped the attacker’s heel while trying to get back in position.

Deila immediately had James Sands drop from midfield into the hole left by Chanot next to Alex Callens. In the 14th minute, he pulled winger Jesús Medina off the field for versatile defender Sebastien Ibeagha, who created a three-man back line with Callens and Sands.

The plan worked in the first half as City absorbed pressure well, limiting Columbus’ chances. When the Crew did get the ball on target, Johnson consistently was in good position to make a relatively easy save. Johnson finished the match with five saves, Zelarayán’s excellent shot the lone chance to beat him.

Soon after the goal, Deila was forced to make another change after an injury to substitute Ibeagha, bringing in midfielder Keaton Parks. In the 70th minute, Valentín Castellanos came on for Héber, who never really got himself into the match. Castellanos brought some pace and fresh legs to the NYCFC attack and had a chance in the final minute of stoppage time, but Columbus keeper Eloy Room never was seriously challenged.

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