NYCFC wakes up and rallies against Union

Photo by Matt Kremkau

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

It took a flirtation with disaster but New York City FC shook its malaise to come back and defeat the Philadelphia Union Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens both scored their first goals in MLS within the final ten minutes to turn the game around for NYCFC. City were on the verge of going winless in their third Eastern Conference game this week before the late turnaround. Head coach Patrick Vieira said his team played really well and showed character to find the goals despite a seven-save performance from Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.

“I think we played quite well,” Vieira said. “You have to give them credit because their goalkeeper had a fantastic game. They defended quite well and they took their opportunity to score. Then, as a team, we didn’t accept the defeat and fought back.”

City started the game flat and struggled to turn their possession into many opportunities. Though as a sign of things to come, their best chance of the first half came off a corner kick that was cleared to Alex Ring who hit the post. The rebound fell to David Villa only to result in one of the five times Blake stopped Villa on the day.

Late in the half, Callens fell on his right shoulder after going up for a header. He received treatment and came back on at the end of the half clutching his arm close to him while he ran. He said that at halftime team doctors told him it would be best for him to not play but he ignored the recommendation. Vieira said his willingness to go on and play through the pain showed his strength.

“It hurts a lot,” Callens said of his shoulder. “I was playing against [C.J.] Sapong who is a very strong player. I couldn’t put my right arm on him and hold onto him. I was afraid if I got hit that I would have to leave the field.”

Callens never did have to leave but the pain he felt only came when his teammates jumped on him after he scored the second goal. Before the fightback came the insult. A Union counterattack led to Fafa Picault cutting inside from the left and curling a finish passed Sean Johnson in the 69th minute. The Pigeons, it seemed, were set to drop points for the third time this week.

“When you are defender,” Chanot said, “it doesn’t matter how many goals you score. The most important thing, for me, is to keep the zero at the back or to win the game. When there is goal, even if it is not your fault, you’re feeling bad. That was exactly how it felt against Atlanta when we concede three goals or against New England when you concede two goals or here when you concede one goal.”

Vieira inserted Ugo Okoli and Jonathan Lewis and switched to three in the back. Ronald Matarrita came on before the goal and the changes worked perfectly for Vieira. The game opened up with City finding space on the flanks and switching the ball to either side with ease. A long diagonal to the left resulted in City forcing a corner that Chanot headed in on the 80th minute.

City had the run of the play and pressed for the winner. They forced another corner that went long to Lewis who chested over to Chanot who found Villa. Villa was thwarted again by Blake but Callens was free at the top of the six-yard box to put the rebound away. A long week for NYCFC was able to end on a high note, Vieira said, thanks to the work of his staff.

“The way we managed the team between games is good,” Vieira said. “We finished really well physically. We finished stronger than them. When we scored the first goal, I looked at the time and said we had time to create another one. Alex was at the right place at the right time, and that was a really good win.”