Pirlo spoils NYCFC’s unbeaten run


How much it will matter remains to be seen but Andrea Pirlo haunted New York City FC yet again.

Pirlo was caught in possession by Darren Mattocks who ran in on goal while Pirlo protested. A quick pass to Diego Valeri who made no mistake beating Sean Johnson proved to be the difference as the Portland Timbers beat NYCFC 1–0 at Yankee Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Pirlo was the first player substituted for NYCFC who saw their unbeaten streak snapped at five games and their home unbeaten streak snapped at 10. He had gotten the start in Saturday’s match after Alexander Ring was held out of the lineup due to a toe injury and injuries to Yangel Herrera and Mikey Lopez. It was the first time Pirlo started consecutive games since April. Though he acknowledged Pirlo’s role in the goal, head coach Patrick Vieira did not attribute the loss to Pirlo.

“It just so happened that this time it was Andrea,” Vieira said. “A lot of players have lost the ball in a really difficult area, but it happened that we conceded the goal. That’s part of the game. You make a mistake and you get punished right away. We have players who make mistakes and make the wrong decision, and sometimes we concede the goal and sometimes we don’t concede the goal, but that is not the reason why we lost the game.”

Vieira opted to keep David Villa out of the team as Villa recovers from an adductor strain suffered during international duty and opted to use Jack Harrison as a false nine. Harrison was able to drop in midfield and help City bring the ball into the attacking third but too often the attacks disintegrated. Though they completed 80% of their passes, City only recorded one shot on target from open play. A second half shot from distance that Jeff Attinella saved with relative ease.

“Even with David out of the lineup, we’re still creating chances,” R.J. Allen said. “Maybe we’re not pulling the trigger as much as we should but I still think we’re creating chances and just the final product wasn’t there tonight.”

City left themselves exposed to the counterattack for much of the second half and through clever pressing and movements from the Timbers, nearly paid for it. Johnson made seven saves in the game, six of them came in the second half. Most noteworthy was Johnson’s diving save on Valeri in the 84th minute. The saves were a blur to Johnson who was trying to ignore the pain of a knee-on-knee collision with Mattocks suffered in the first half.

“It was tough, you know, taking a couple knocks, but you have to do what you can to push through,” Johnson said.”You’d have to drag me off the field tonight. I was trying to do my best to stay stable throughout the last 45 minutes. I ended up putting the team in a situation where we were at a disadvantage so if I could fight through it, I was going to. You do what you can. There’s going to be games when you’re busy, games where you’re not busy. It’s just looking forward to the next one now.”

With the loss, City fall nine points behind Toronto FC for first in the Eastern Conference and the Supporters Shield. Their lead over the Chicago Fire for second-place and a first-round bye remains five points with all three teams having played 28 games. The Pigeons should have Villa and Ring available for next Saturday’s game at the Colorado Rapids.