• Frank Lampard started for New York City at home to Columbus Crew
  • Federico Higuain gave the away side the lead with a thumping header
  • Andrew Jacobsen scored his first career goal to level the scores
  • But substitute Justin Meram scored on 83 minutes to win the game   

Steve Brenner For Mailonline

Frank Lampard told his friends coming to Major League Soccer would be anything but a holiday.

The former England midfielder was correct.

If anything, his sojourn Stateside is fast becoming a nightmare with little light at the end of the tunnel.

Lampard’s second start – his third appearance in all came to an end on the hour– was promising enough and with manager Jason Kreis able to field all his star turns at once for only the second time this season, hopes were initially high.

Frank Lampard makes a run during a solid run out in New York City's late defeat to Columbus

Frank Lampard makes a run during a solid run out in New York City’s late defeat to Columbus

Justin Meram fired home the winner seven minutes from time as the Crew caused an upset at Yankee Stadium

Justin Meram fired home the winner seven minutes from time as the Crew caused an upset at Yankee Stadium

Andrew Jacobsen (centre) is congratulated by his team-mates after equalising for New York City

Andrew Jacobsen (centre) is congratulated by his team-mates after equalising for New York City

After all, a teamsheet boasting Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo is something not to be sniffed at. 

Yet when Justin Meram squeezed home a late winner to ensure a compact, solid and workmanlike Columbus Crew side reinforced their position near the top of the Eastern Conference, the despondency engulfing NYCFC was there for all to see.

The 37-year-old looks disappointed as he trudges off the pitch following New York's defeat

The 37-year-old looks disappointed as he trudges off the pitch following New York’s defeat

Lampard started for NYCFC but was substituted in the second half as his side slipped to a defeat

Lampard started for NYCFC but was substituted in the second half as his side slipped to a defeat

Lampard spoke about the performance after the game: ‘It’s disappointing and we really need some consistency, It’s an obvious thing which has been lacking. I can’t be at my best – I have been training days rather than weeks but we have a two week break now which is perfect for me to get some good training.

‘It was agreed that I would only play an hour, I have been pushing to get back but it’s been difficult. I need some base fitness and hopefully then I can contribute.

‘We need wins but I am used to laying games to try and win the League. Everyone is still trying. There is a desire for everyone to be here. I have been working hard with the physios , doing sessions in the evening to try and get myself right. It’s been badly timed , I have got upset when I have dwelled on it but I should be 100% fit by the next game against Dallas.

The former Chelsea midfielder will be hoping his side can pick up some points with seven games left 

The former Chelsea midfielder will be hoping his side can pick up some points with seven games left 

‘In hindsight, I tried to get fit too quickly. Results weren’t great and I was desperate to make an impact. Injuries though can happen at any time.

‘It’s not just about myself, David and Andrea. We need chemistry throughout the team. There are enough points for us to get into the play-off’s. Pressure is nothing new to me.

‘I don’t regret coming here mid season. Manchester City wanted to me to stay and I enjoyed my time there. But I am determined to be a success here.’

Last weekend, LA Galaxy, the reigning MLS champions , dished out a brutal beating.

Here, City weren’t played off the park. Far from it. They responded well to Federico Higuain’s 10 th minute opener and when Andrew Jacobson levelled on 29 minutes, the chances of winning just their third match in nine attempts were high.

Kreis’ aces in the pack were working well. Columbus however proved you need more than a few multi-million dollar legends to make a team capable of making waves. It was never going to be easy starting a team from scratch.

The Columbus players celebrate after Federico Higuain opened the scoring for the away side 

The Columbus players celebrate after Federico Higuain opened the scoring for the away side 

City remain in the play-off hunt – one look at the tables shows everyone pretty much is. Yet unless they start learning their lessons, a first season will ultimately end abruptly with nothing to show for it other than damaged pride and battered egos.

Considering Lampard is still not 100 per cent fit following calf and quad problems which have decimated his start in MLS, it was perhaps a surprise to see Kreis hand him a start. The fact he replaced Poku, the livewire Ghanaian who has quickly become a fans favourite, ensured further head scratching among the City fans.

Yet Kreis knows if his side are to finally start pushing towards that final play-off spot – only the top six qualify – his star trio need to gel sooner, rather than later.

These sides met just 10 days ago with that man Poku bagging a brace as Columbus held City to a 2-2 draw in a match held up for 20 minutes towards the end because of a thunder storm.

It’s certainly been raining goals for Villa – the Spaniard came into this clash having notched 13 goals from his last 14 games and , once again, the 33 year-old was lively from the off.

He flashed wide with just a minute on the clock before Lampard stung Crew keeper Steve Clark’s gloves from close range.

With Pirlo providing his usually nonchalant quality on the ball and his English midfield partner surging from midfield with his customary forays into the final third, things were already looking up.

Yet there is a problem haunting Kreis which appears no closer to being rectified.

David Villa (right) is closed down as he attempts a shot during the first half at Yankee Stadium

David Villa (right) is closed down as he attempts a shot during the first half at Yankee Stadium

Defending has been their Achilles heel all season and those frailties reared their ugly head once again with 10 minutes on the clock. Pirlo’s ability on the ball is undoubted , his awareness as a defender, however, is less impressive and when the Italian fell asleep at a corner, Higuain punished him by heading in the opener.

It was a woeful goal to concede and if Kei Kamara had kept his head five minutes later, it would have got even worse.

This was typical MLS fare. End to end , chances a plenty yet he quality defending made your toes curl.

‘We want Poku’ bellowed the home fans. ‘We need defenders’ would have perhaps been more apt.

Yet those jibes quickly turned to roars as Jacobson let fly from 25 yards to bring NYCFC level. It was a shot out of nowhere – but Kreis wasn’t complaining.

The chances kept on coming , the best falling to Villa five minutes before the break, the former Barcelona forward working himself into a nice position before wastefully shooting over the bar.

Lampard’s afternoon came to an end on the hour, Kreis keen not to overexert the 37 year-old considering his lack of minutes over the past six weeks.

Mix Diskerud attempts a bicycle kick with Columbus defenders closing in on the midfielder 

Mix Diskerud attempts a bicycle kick with Columbus defenders closing in on the midfielder 

That allowed Poku his chance to shine. How City needed him to spark their play-off push into action.

It didn’t happen.

The second half however was scrappy, disjointed and edgy. Opportunities were scarce.

Kei Kamara , the former Middlesbrough striker, headed forcefully against the bar with 13 minutes left to give the home fans a scare before earning a booking for punching a cross past Josh Saunders.

Yet just moments later, substitute Meram’s superbly angled shot fired Columbus to the win and left Kreis, once again, with much to ponder.

There are seven games left for City to turn it around. Time is running out. 

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