New York City FC couldn’t care less about winning only one of its last seven regular-season games.
The only thing that mattered to the MLS team was if it could secure second place in the Eastern Conference and the resulting bye from the midweek knockout round of the playoffs.
City finally was able to breathe easy Sunday and now has eight days to rest and plan after playing Columbus Crew SC to a 2-2 draw before 20,113 at Citi Field.
Depending on the results of two other games, NYCFC could have finished second or as low as fifth, which would have forced the team to play a knockout game Wednesday or Thursday.
NYCFC is 1-2-4 in its past seven games.
“It got a bit a tight today, but overall we deserved it,” midfielder Alex Ring said. “The way we’ve been playing we should have notched it sooner. That has been our tale this season, that we have to fight hard for it and at the end, we get it.”
On the bright side, NYCFC (16-9-9, 57 points) finished with the league’s second-best record, trailing only Supporters Shield winner Toronto FC (20-5-9, 69).
“We are really satisfied,” said coach Patrick Vieira, whose team was forced from Yankee Stadium due to the Yankees’ postseason success. “We are really pleased because finishing second is a really good achievement. If you look at the top five East teams, it shows how strong the Eastern Conference was.”
The first leg of the team’s conference semifinal matchup will be played at an opponent TBD Oct. 30-31, with the home leg at Yankee Stadium Nov. 5.
After the Crew’s Ole Kamara scored against the run of play in the 11th minute, City’s David Villa took center stage with two goals, heading home a Maxi Moralez corner kick in the 18th minute and lifting NYCFC into the lead with a 16-yard shot in the 45th minute.
Columbus equalized on Josh Williams’ 58th-minute goal.
Villa had an opportunity to give the hosts some breathing room with a penalty kick three minutes into stoppage time, but goalkeeper Zach Steffen stopped his attempt, diving to his right.
Villa left the locker room without talking to the media, perhaps miffed at missing.
His teammates, on the other hand, were looking forward and not back, not worrying about recent struggles.
“There’s a hunger in the group,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “There’s a bite to us now. Everything’s here to play for.”