Second-Half Blitz Carries NYCFC to Win



imagesRodney Wallace scored the game-winning goal by accident 15 minutes after his best attempts to score were denied. Wallace then set up Maxi Moralez two minutes later as New York City FC won its second straight and turned a tight game against Atlanta United into a confident 3–1 victory Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

The goals by Wallace and Moralez were enough for NYCFC (5-3-1, 16 points) to gain control of a game that began as an end-to-end affair with both teams looking to open the other’s defense with long diagonal balls to little success. Coach Patrick Vieira only replaced Ugo Okoli with David Villa in the lineup and played for the counter. Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring clogged the midfield while Moralez joined the attackers in a four-man press.

“If you want to win the game against a team like Atlanta, you need people to be at their best,” Vieira said. “I think today every single player were at their best and that was why we put in a very strong performance today.”

The front line combined for Villa’s goal in the 17th minute with Jack Harrison finding Wallace on the left wing before Wallace’s back heel pass to Villa outside the area allowed him to run onto the ball and fire a shot off the inside of the post and in. City was on the front foot for much of the half after Villa’s sixth goal of the season but was unable to turn that pressure into many clear opportunities.

Although it struggled to create many chances, Atlanta (3-4-2, 11), losers of two straight, found an equalizer through an unlikely source. With his first shot of the season, Carlos Carmona tied the game firing a powerful half volley off the far post. Atlanta’s usual suspects were stymied as Héctor Villalba and Miguel Almirón only had one shot or pass inside the New York City box in the entire game. Their struggles can be attributed to the defensive efforts Herrera and Ring put in, which kept the United players from enjoying much space to create opportunities.

“When you look at the way that we played during the game without possession, that will tell you how well those two played,” Vieira said. “Atlanta did not create many chances today because Yangel and Alex worked really well in the midfield. The way that we protected our back four was really good. I don’t remember Atlanta creating many chances, I think the chances they created came off of set pieces but from open play, we were solid.”

City jumped on Atlanta for the first 15 minutes of the second half and had three opportunities cleared off the line in the first minute. Somehow, Wallace had two shots cleared and had a header tipped off the crossbar in a wild scramble in front of goal. Herrera and Wallace each forced saves from Alec Kann shortly afterward. Wallace earned enough karma with his attempts so that when Ethan White made an overlapping run and crossed first-time to the near post, the ball caromed off Wallace’s back heel and into the net.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable with the overlaps,” White said. “Obviously, timing is everything. Today, I think Jack and I timed it really well and I got on the end of it. I saw both Rodney and David on the post so I just whipped it in and was hoping someone would hit it. So Rodney, he owes me something now.”

A little more than a minute later, one of the diagonal balls finally bore fruit as Wallace ran onto the ball and first-time cut it back for Moralez to run onto and curl a finish into the far corner. Moralez was the team’s most prolific creator with four chances created to go with five fouls won. It’s the third game in-a-row that Moralez has been involved in a goal. That it only took 16 second-half minutes for City to turn its advantage into a result that didn’t surprise Villa.

“We came to the pitch with a lot of energy because we deserved it more,” Villa said. “The performance of the team in the second half was perfect from the start. The three chances in 30 seconds was a good start. We were confident and hungry because we did very well in the first half but we didn’t get the reward.”