by CHRISTIAN ARAOS
In the not-too-distant past, New York City FC’s games at Yankee Stadium more resembled tennis than soccer. Play would bounce from end to end with both teams attacking and neither team defending. Sunday may have been the beginning of the end of that era and the start of a new one.
In two games of the 2017 Major League Soccer season, the NYCFC defense has conceded only five shots on target. After D.C. United’s Patrick Nyarko had two opportunities stopped by Sean Johnson in the 62nd minute, the rest of the NYC defense kept D.C. without a shot until stoppage time. That shutdown came at a critical time for NYCFC. In years past, Nyarko scores and the anxiety rises. This year, calmness prevailed.
“I think we looked really strong defensively,” Coach Patrick Vieira said. “Rodney [Wallace], David [Villa] and Jack [Harrison] worked really hard and when they work really hard, it makes it easy for the back four to defend. Sean made some really important saves, especially in the second half and it didn’t give them a chance to get back into the game and that is what I expect from him as well.”
In the off-season City made changes to its defensive personnel and approach. Alexander Callens was brought in to shore up central defense and has formed an effective partnership with Maxime Chanot. Both Callens and Chanot are comfortable stepping forward to stop opposing attacks or dropping back to maintain a defensive shape. Their passing has been accurate with each at above a 85 percent completion rate in both matches. Though they have played well, Vieira said he is not going to set their starting status in stone.
“It’s too early to talk about the starting XI,” Vieira said. “When you look at the way we played our first game in Orlando, a number of the players did really well and the team today worked really hard as well. We just have to keep going and what I want from the players is to work hard and to work well every single day.”
Ethan White came in for R.J. Allen at right back as the lone change among the starters from the loss against Orlando City, with mixed results. D.C. was more effective attacking down his side of the field than on the left, but White was still able to adequately cope with most of their attempts. His passing completion rate was not nearly as high as his teammates in the back. The rest of the team was unchanged even if the approach differed somewhat.
Alexander Ring, another newcomer, was also important in helping the forwards and midfield take some stress off the defense. Ring patrolled the entire midfield making tackles and interceptions on either side of the field. His recoveries in front of the backline helped City keep possession while also preventing D.C. from launching quick attacks down the flanks.
“We dominated the game, we won the important duals in the midfield and that’s why we won today,” Ring said. “We were strong as a team. We won our duals, most of them— the important ones. We played hard and played dynamically and that was the key for today.”