NYCFC hail improved defensive performances

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

New York City FC pitched a clean sheet Saturday— a rare moment that is happening more often as their defense continues to reverse their once sieve-like backline.

“Any time you give some points back, it’s important that you learn from your mistakes,” Jason Hernandez said. “I think a lot of performances this year, we’ve done a good job of reflecting and analyzing and trying to do our best to correct those mistakes the next game. Which is why, in a lot of instances, when we have a disappointing performance we come back with a pretty solid performance.

“I think today was another showing of that.”

NYCFC have five shutouts in their last 11 matches and came within seconds of having another one July 30 against the Rapids before conceding a free kick goal in stoppage time. Though aided by the Galaxy’s poor finishing, NYCFC only allowed one shot on target in Saturday’s match. They are averaging two goals per game and are conceding about a goal per game during that span.

Before the Copa America break, they nearly averaged two goals allowed per game.

“We’ve improved in the togetherness of the team,” Andoni Iraola said. “Sometimes when the other team has the possession, we are pretty solid. We are not conceding a lot of chances. Obviously, a clean sheet doesn’t guarantee a win but it helps a lot.”

Though City have gotten improved defensive results as of late, they remain prone to allowing late goals. They are one of only two teams currently in a playoff position to allow 10 or more goals after the 75th minute. Their 3–3 draw with Columbus Crew SC August 13 was the third time they allowed a game-tying goal in stoppage time.

Those six points dropped are what makes NYCFC first in the East instead of first in MLS.

“Other than Columbus, we got a clean sheet against San Jose and a minute away from a clean sheet against Colorado,” Hernandez said. “Overall our performances have been pretty good, other than Columbus. Two wins in our last home games has been pretty important.”

NYCFC’s improvement comes in spite of there being a state of flux with the defense. Maxime Chanot arrived during the summer window and had to be instantly integrated into the first team. Jefferson Mena and Ronald Matarrita each missed time due to injury. Matarrita returned to the lineup Saturday and said afterwards that he’s excited to be contributing again. Matarrita’s absence forced Hernandez and R.J. Allen each to move positions with Hernandez to right back and Allen to left back. Nonetheless, those players have been important in NYCFC’s defensive turnaround but will now be competing for time at right back. Hernandez provides defensive stability according to head coach Patrick Vieira while Allen adds to the attack with his passing and forward runs.

Though the defensive puzzle is not totally complete, the pieces are coming together and believe it may lead to an MLS Cup.

“Right now, we are one of the best teams in the league,” Matarrita said. “We’re feeling a lot better after the bad start to the season where we lost a lot of games in the last minute. Our mentality has grown and stayed together as the games have gone on. We’re doing the best we can to stay in first place and hopefully win the championship.”