Pigeons Sing in the Rain

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By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoHad it been the landlord and not the tenant playing at Yankee Stadium, Saturday’s game would have been postponed. But soccer can be played in the rain as New York City FC rallied in a downpour to defeat the Seattle Sounders, 2–1, thanks to two goals from David Villa.

Villa scored his third double of the season with both goals coming in the second half. He converted a penalty five minutes into the second half that appeared to be the product of his persistent dialogue with Referee Robert Sibiga more than anything Oniel Fisher did on the play. He then clinched the points in the 77th minute, volleying home at the far post after Jack Harrison beat two defenders to whip in a cross. It was Villa’s 50th and 51st goals in Major League Soccer.

“It’s really important for me but my best goal is to do something important for the team,” Villa said. “It is important for me to score, always because I am a striker. Those goals gave us the points and were a good moment for NYCFC so it is the most important for me so now I’m going to rest for today and then think of scoring the 52nd, that’s the best I can do for the future.”

Villa’s goals inspired a result City (8-5-3, 27 points) nearly lost because of the rain. The rain began shortly before kickoff and intensified as the game wore on. By the 30th minute, the field was a slip and slide, the midfield a quagmire. Maxime Chanot dribbled into this puddle and slowed for a moment thinking Clint Dempsey was nearby but that allowed Cristan Roldan to dispossess him and run in on goal. Roldan had just enough space to fire into the bottom corner.

The rain eased up for the second half, but all the water that fell made it difficult for either team to continue to play on the ground. That made them play over the top and simplify their approach to building up attacks. The game became a physical duel in the midfield with players sliding and colliding often. Ben Sweat collided with Chad Marshall at the end of the first half and was unable to continue playing past the 66th minute. Rodney Wallace also took a heavy knock in a collision but both players will be fine, Coach Patrick Vieira said. He added that the rain worried him at first but he relaxed after watching his team stick to its principles despite the weather.

“As the game kept going, the more comfortable I felt because you can see the technical level of our team,” Vieira said. “They way we passed the ball around, the way we make the right decisions because we kept things simple. The more the game went, the more comfortable I was. We played really well and I really enjoyed watching the team play today.”

The rain and the physical play lent itself for Sabiga to make plenty of decisions that would incur the wrath of the team he decided against. Such was the case in the first half when he declined to award NYCFC a penalty and in the second when he did and then booked Marshall for arguing. On the play, Fisher appeared to touch the ball before his leg collided with Villa’s. Villa used his laces to power the PK down the middle of goal.

City outshot the defending champion Sounders, 12-5, in the second half using direct play to create chances and to push Seattle (5-7-4, 19) back. Through their sustained possession in the attacking half, they were able to push with numbers. Thomas McNamara was withdrawn for Ugo Okoli allowing NYCFC to go with two strikers up front. Okoli was occupying Seattle’s defenders which allowed Villa to drift left. Harrison, on the right, bought time for himself with a couple of jinks before floating a cross into Villa’s path, allowing him to volley home unmarked at the far post. Harrison’s decision to cross, Vieira said, was a sign of his maturation.

“It was just me being more calm and collected,” Harrison said. “Last year, I was a bit immature around the box. I wanted to go straight to goal and finish as possible. It’s important to take time and think about what options you have around you.”

It is the second consecutive league game that City scored twice in the second half to turn around a deficit. Chanot said while it was a positive sign of the team’s trust in one another, he added that conceding the first goal was something the team needs to be wary of going forward. With the win, The Pigeons can enter next weekend’s Hudson River Derby potentially seven points ahead of the New York Red Bulls.

“It’s a derby so it’s always important,” Chanot said. “We want to win to stay at the top of the table and for our fans because I know for them it’s important. It’s going to be a normal game because it’s a league game but for us, we have to be honest, it’s going to be a bit special.”