By CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Nyack, N.Y., has never produced a Champions League winner but it has given the soccer world Thomas McNamara.
Fewer than five minutes after he replaced an ineffective Andrea Pirlo, McNamara scored in the 67th minute for New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, the game-winner in a 2–1 decision against the San Jose Earthquakes.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘get in the box, get free and into a good area,’ ” McNamara said. “When Ronald [Matarrita] got in behind, I was just hoping that he would cut it back to me. Thankfully, he did and he played a perfect ball to me. I just made sure to keep it on frame because the goalkeeper was out of the equation at that point.”
McNamara’s goal broke a deadlock that Pirlo was partly responsible for creating. He played a heavy pass back to goalkeeper Sean Johnson who miscued his pass to Alex Callens. Marco Ureña seized the ball that bounded off the thigh of Callens and walked in on goal with Pirlo standing flat-footed nearby. A near-post finish later had the Earthquakes ahead after six minutes and the City defense looking at one other.
“A lot of things happened there,” Johnson said. “You have to take an honest look at yourself first. The ball comes in, it can be a better ball, it can always be a better ball, it can be a better touch, a better clearance. We all switched off defensively. There were plenty of things that went wrong but what’s important is that we have a group of guys who take responsibility for that. Andrea, Alex or myself, whoever it is that’s involved in the play, we’re all involved collectively.”
The Pigeons responded quickly and equalized four minutes later with Jack Harrison finishing the chance David Villa crafted with the back of his right heel.
What had been a frantic and open start to the game quickly became a stalemate as the Earthquakes dropped deep in two lines of four. San Jose midfielders Darwin Ceren and Fatai Alashe picked their moments to close down Pirlo and force him into turnovers that led to counterattacking opportunities. City were mostly impotent despite holding more than 70 percentof the possession in the first half.
“Sometimes you have a plan but the game happens and you have to change the plan,” NYC FC Coach Patrick Vieira said. “I made a decision to take off Andrea not because he was having a bad game, I thought he was playing quite well. The way we were playing in the first half, he was managing to dictate the game and get on the ball. We wanted something a little different and that’s why we changed Andrea for Tommy and it went the right way.”
Vieira spent much of the postgame news conference defending Pirlo but City’s lack of incisiveness continued in the second half as Pirlo was unable to play forward passes or win back possession in the midfield. Pirlo nearly gave away a penalty eight minutes into the second half as he got a foot in on Ureña inside the area but Referee Jorge Gonzalez waved away the penalty appeals.
While they were comfortable in possession, NYCFC was running the risk of dropping points at home for the second straight match. Once McNamara came on, the attack sprang to life with the team playing more directly and pushing play deeper into the San Jose half of the field. That allowed Matarrita to move further upfield and press the Earthquakes. Tommy Thompson was caught on the ball and Matarrita quickly drove forward. A combination with Villa allowed for him to break through the defense and while he only had goalkeeper David Bingham in front of him.
“David had a good touch and to me and I looked across to Tommy,” Matarrita said. “The goalkeeper went with me, the defense went with me too and Tommy was alone. I was only thinking about what was best for the team and I thought playing it to Tommy was the best choice. He finished it and we were able to get the points.”
The Earthquakes would push for an equalizer and nearly found it through rookie right back Nick Lima. Substitute striker Danny Hoesen played a cross from left wing that Shea Salinas flicked into space at the far post. Rodney Wallace was fooled by the flick allowing Lima a clean shot on goal but Johnson stretched his arms out to the left to stop the half-volley. San Jose went down to ten men in the 80th minute when Victor Bernardez was shown a red card for a stamp on McNamara and could only muster two more shots afterwards.
NYCFC have seven points through its first four games. The club is away for its next two matches, starting next Saturday, April 8, at D.C. United.