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10-men NYCFC drop 2020 MLS opener to Columbus

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 01: Columbus Crew SC forward Lucas Zelarayan (10) passes the ball during the game between the Columbus Crew SC and New York City FC at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on March 1, 2020. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A second-half curler from Lucas Zelarayán proved to be the difference on Sunday afternoon as the 10-men NYCFC dropped its 2020 season opener to the Columbus Crew, 1-0, which was headlined by an early red card from defender Maxime Chanot.

It was a disappointing debut for new manager Ronny Deila — the Norwegian who previously managed Scottish powerhouse Celtic before his most recent four-year stay with Oslo-based Valerenga.

He is the lone fresh face near the pitch for an NYCFC side that returned every one of its starters from the 2019 team that finished with the second-best record in MLS.

But City’s 2020 debut started with fireworks — and for all the wrong reasons.

In the third minute, Chanot was shown a red card for denying what was deemed a clear goal-scoring opportunity for Zelarayán.

A long ball over the top played the Crew’s striker behind New York’s defense. Trailing closely behind, Chanot clipped the heels of Zelarayán from behind while trying to switch from his right to left side.

With 10 men for the rest of the match, NYCFC had a shout for a Columbus red card in the 10th minute when Vito Wormgoor’s clearance kicked through defender Anton Tinnerholm, but referee Ramy Touchan opted to show yellow.

But Chanot’s red card relegated NYCFC to playing ceaseless defense as Columbus’ attack ramped up with the man advantage.

Columbus’ Pedro Santos was the most active of the Crew’s bunch, missing two dangerous shots just over the NYCFC goal before a header in the six-yard box was beamed right to Sean Johnson in the 37th minute.

NYCFC’s defense finally broke down in the 56th minute when Zelarayán was played into the right side of the box, shrugged off a defender, turned on his left, and curled a tough-angled shot into the top-left corner of Johnson’s goal to put Columbus in front.

The Crew should have gotten a second in the 73rd minute when Luis Diaz was alone in front of Johnson’s net with a yawning goal. But the midfielder scuffed his opportunity and came closer to hitting the corner flag than the goal.

NYCFC’s defensive fortitude was certainly a positive to take away from the frustrating opener as they’ll look to keep all 11 men on the pitch next weekend when they travel north of the border to meet Toronto FC.

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