NYCFC Earns Its Most Important Win

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By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoFor 12 minutes on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, things were going perfectly for New York City FC. Its front six was vibrant and pinned the Chicago Fire in their own half. Then Referee Alan Chapman made some decisions.

Chapman did not award NYCFC a penalty after it appeared that Johan Kappelhof fouled Yangel Herrera in the area. Chapman then issued a yellow card to Herrera for a seemingly benign challenge, and then minutes later issued a second yellow for a late challenge on Bastian Schweinsteiger. City would have to play the final 79 minutes down a man, but still won, 2-1. It is a result that David Villa said was the most important in the club’s history.

“We showed our strength in adverse conditions,” Villa said. “We won a game against the best team in the league after going down to 10 men after 10 minutes. There were difficult conditions for the game but we showed our spirit. We lost two points against Toronto and I believe that today we won more than three points.”

Despite playing with 10 men, the Pigeons (11-6-4, 37 points) were the more dangerous team in possession and were organized defensively, limiting the Fire to shots from distance. City dropped its midfield line back, which forced Chicago (11-4-5, 38) into making long diagonal passes that the backline was able to handle and clear. They looked for chances on the counter through the dynamic play of Maxi Moralez and Jonathan Lewis who nearly marked his first start with a goal during the first half.

“You don’t win these types of games if you don’t show togetherness and character,” Coach Patrick Vieira said. “We showed the desire and we showed discipline as well. When I looked at the players after the game, I couldn’t ask for more than what they gave today. When you work so hard like they did today, I’m really pleased they managed to keep the result because I really believed they deserved it with the way they worked today.”

For all the joy felt after the win, City’s injury problems may have multiplied. Frédéric Brilliant and Ben Sweat‘s heads collided while they attempted to clear the ball inside their own penalty area. Sweat was down on the field for several minutes and needed help to walk off the field. Mikey Lopez replaced him in the 37th minute. Vieira said he had no update on Sweat’s status.

Chicago responded to its ineffective first half by bringing on David Accam who was able to push the attack deeper into the City half ,but the hosts would snag the first two goals. Lewis ran onto a ball on right wing and opened up space for himself with a clever cutback before passing to David Villa who hit a side-volley from outside the area into the far corner for his 14th goal of the season.

Brillant, the much-maligned center back who was filling in for the injured Maxime Chanot, followed up his header and nodded home the rebound two minutes later. Brillant was kicked in the jaw while scoring the winning goal but got up and finished the game. It was the first time this season that City conceded fewer than two goals in a game Brillant started in.

“Fred played really well, his relationship with Alex [Callens] was really good,” Vieira said. “It just shows that we have more than 11 players. We have 26 players and that is a good message to send to players who don’t play often: keep working hard, keep training well because the opportunity to play will come and they will have to take it like Fred did today.”

The Fire pulled one back through Accam’s shot that struck the underside of the bar and bounced inside the goal four minutes later. Chicago applied pressure for much of the half but only through crosses and shots from distance forcing Sean Johnson to make seven saves. It was the first time Johnson played his former team but he said that was far from his mind.

“We understood the importance of the game,” Johnson said. “I didn’t put anymore of an emphasis on it being my old team or the fact that I was there last year. It was good to play against a lot of familiar faces and it was a fun one to be a part of and it was good to come out on top.”

Only one shot on target came from the inside area, a Nemanja Nikolic, the league’s leading goal-scorer, back heel that Ethan White had to slide in front of an open goal to block. Juninho struck the post in second half stoppage time for Chicago who saw their 11-match unbeaten run come to an end.

With the win, New York City pulls to within two points of league-leaders Toronto FC and one behind the Fire. Toronto was scheduled to play the Colorado Rapids Saturday evening. Toronto will host New York City next Sunday at BMO Field.