NYCFC Draws Into Second Place

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NYCFC logoWhen the dust settled, New York City FC ended Decision Day where it began — in second place.

Josh Williams‘ second-half goal negated a David Villa‘s two goals as Columbus Crew and NYCFC drew, 2–2, Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. With Atlanta United only drawing against Toronto FC, City was able to stay in second place and clinch a first-round bye in Major League Soccer‘s Eastern Conference playoffs. NYC can thank Toronto for help after David Villa missed a penalty in second-half stoppage time that would have clinched the spot.

“We are satisfied,” Coach Patrick Vieira said. “I think finishing second is a really good achievement. When you look at the Supporters’ Shield standings and there’s five-six teams, that shows how strong the Eastern Conference was and today was a perfect example. …There was a lot of intensity and a lot of drama and I really enjoyed the game but I’m delighted that we managed to get that second spot.”

Columbus took the lead 11 minutes in against the run of play. City started strongly putting the Crew under pressure and denying them entry into the midfield but they conceded from a turnover. Maxi Moralez slipped on the sod on left wing allowing Federico Higuain an opportunity to pick out Ola Kamara making a run in behind. With a perfectly weighted pass, Higuain floated the ball over Frederic Brillant and onto Kamara’s path allowing him to beat Sean Johnson with a first-time finish. Johnson said a full-strength team was able to help him out today as he admitted his struggles.

“It’s good that everybody’s healthy, we’ve got depth heading into the playoffs,” Johnson said. “First and foremost, we wanted to get the second seed which we did and now we have everybody healthy going into the playoffs.”

Vieira told reporters after the game that defender Maxime Chanot trained with the reserves this morning and felt fine so Chanot will be available for the playoffs. Ethan White made his first start since sustaining a calf muscle injury on August 30 at right back. White said he’s focused on getting healthy rather than competing with new signing Andraz Struna and R.J. Allen for the chance to start at right back.

“We don’t know who’s going to be starting so I’ll just be training hard and make it hard for the coach to make a decision,” White said. “Today it could be me and tomorrow it could be someone else so I just need to keep training hard.”

The team responded well to the opening goal and kept putting the Crew under pressure resulting in an equalizer moments later. White forced a corner with a smart close down and David Villa headed in Moralez’ corner from inside the six-yard box. City played their tidiest half of soccer in the last two months completing 82 percent of its passes and taking 12 shots in the first half. Villa rewarded their efforts with a second goal in stoppage time with a finish that beat Zach Steffen at the near post.

For their positive play in the first half, the Pigeons dialed it back in the second half under pressure from Columbus. That pressure kept play within NYCFC’s half for much of the half and it led to Williams equalizing off a corner in the 58th minute. Columbus nearly found a winner off a corner in the 71st as Villa’s misguided clearance had to be cleared off the line but the loose ball landed in front of Pedro Santos but he could find the side netting.

The game opened up as both teams needed a winner to secure the highest possible seed. Vieira inserted Khiry Shelton, Ronald Matarrita and Jonathan Lewis to switch to a 4-4-2 that opened the game. Matarrita ran onto an overhit Lewis cross but Steffen brought him down inside the area seconds before the end of normal time. Referee Ismail Elfath consulted with the Video Assistant Referee, then reviewed the incident himself before deciding to reward City a penalty. Villa could not complete the hat trick as Steffen dove to his right and stuck an arm out to block his attempt.

Moments later, Adam Jahn had an open look inside the area for the Crew but shot it right into Johnson. The final whistle sounded in Queens and a minute later in Atlanta finalizing both sets of 2-2 draws and NYCFC’s second consecutive second-place finish.

“We deserved to finish second,” Alex Ring said. “The way that we’ve been playing, we should have notched it sooner but that’s been the tale of this team: we have to fight hard for it and at the end we get it.”

City will either play the Chicago Fire or the winner of Atlanta-Columbus game in the conference semifinal, depending on whether the Fire can defeat the New York Red Bulls in their play-in game. The first leg of the Semifinal is scheduled for Oct. 30 or 31. City announced that it would host the second leg at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 5 after the Rutgers University football game scheduled that weekend was relocated.