NYCFC Shows Its Contender Credentials

Jul 22, 2017; New York, NY, USA;  New York City FC celebrates after a goal by forward David Villa (7) during second half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoNew York City FC was down a man and under the sun on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. The 90-degree temperature would have exposed past versions, but this year’s team outplayed the Chicago Fire in a 2-1 win. The Fire’s 11-game winning streak was snapped by a team that showed to be more than merely entertaining, but one that is capable of winning silverware.

“We learned a lot from the Toronto game and about the things we needed to correct,” Sean Johnson said. “I made a comment after that game that we needed to really look at the positives and tweak the negatives and today it showed. A man down, we fought hard and were more organized. We battled harder over the course of 90-plus minutes and we were able to come out with the three points.”

Referee Alan Chapman gave Yangel Herrera two yellow cards within the first 12 minutes of the game forcing City to abandon a high-pressing approach that had pinned the Fire in their own half of the field. Instead, the team struck a compromise by staying in its original 4-3-3 shape, but with Jack Harrison tucked inside to deny the Fire the opportunity to play through their midfield and Bastian Schweinsteiger. It worked perfectly as Harrison and Maxi Moralez worked to cover the passing lanes into the midfield forcing the Fire to play long, diagonal balls that often went awry.

“The sending off was quite really early in the first half,” Coach Patrick Vieira said. “You don’t win these types of games if you don’t show the togetherness, the character. I think today we showed a lot of desire and a lot of discipline as well. When I looked at the players after the game in the dressing room, I could not ask them to give more than what they gave today. When you work so hard like you do today, I’m really pleased that they managed to keep the result and win the game. They fully deserved it with the way they worked today.”

With the Fire playing low-percentage passes, the Pigeons (11-6-4, 37 points) were able to swoop in and create chances the counter. Moralez and Harrison were able to play Jonathan Lewis and David Villa into space where they both made smart decisions on the ball and took defenders on the dribble, as seen with Villa’s goal. Lewis nearly marked his first start with a goal in the first half but nonetheless impressed.

“Jonathan had a terrific game,” Vieira said. “Of course, there’s a lack of experience and you see it in the decision-making but playing in games like this will make him improve. He did what I expected him to do, he worked hard for the team and when we went to ten men, he worked as hard as anyone else on the field and he helped us stretch them with his pace.”

Had Juninho’s shot snuck inside the post, City would have allowed stoppage time equalizers in both games this week. Yet Villa said he would have felt better about their performance Saturday compared with Wednesday. Conceding the late penalty against Toronto coupled with the late loss to at the Vancouver Whitecaps were “disastrous” for the team, he said. Holding on for the win this time prompted Villa to say that this was the most important win in the club’s three-year history.

The gauntlet for New York City continues next weekend with its second and final game against TFC this regular season. Unlike the first meeting, Toronto (11-3-7, 40) could have Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore available since the CONCACAF Gold Cup final is on Wednesday. Toronto conceded a late equalizer to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night, which brought City to within three points in the Eastern Conference standings.

“We needed this one,” Johnson said. “Especially being up two goals, it would have been a crusher to give up another lead. After they scored the first goal, there was a moment where we were a little complacent and we snapped right into it. We needed to do whatever it took to get a win and everyone found it within to take it to another level and come away with the win today.”

City will be without Herrera as well as the injured Rodney Wallace and Miguel Camargo, who is likely out for the season. That would allow the club to use his international spot for a potential new signing. Maxime Chanot missed Saturday’s game with an inflamed pelvis while Ben Sweat left the match after a clash of heads. Sweat tweeted after the game that he was fine. Wallace will also miss next weekend’s game.

Those are the known injuries. The aches and sores from two tightly contested games in three July days remain off camera, like the icebags on Villa’s knees while he talked to the YES Network. City will have the week to prepare for the first of 13 games left in the regular season.

“We know perfectly that it doesn’t stop,” Villa said. “We did very well today but Sunday is another big challenge without some players. We will miss Yangel for the red card, I hope Ben is good for the week but we need to have a performance for Toronto in Toronto. It’s one of our rivals because it’s one of the best teams in the conference and the league so we need to recover to do that. We need to fight until the final. I think we showed everyone today who watched our game that we are strong. This is positive for us and negative for those who go against us.”