Third Time’s a Charm for New York City FC

May 21, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; New York City FC forward David Villa (7) is congratulated on a goal by teammates  Maximiliano Moralez (10) and Jack Harrison (11) and defender Ethan White (3) during the first half of a soccer match against the Orlando City SC at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoNew York City FC and its fans will return home from Orlando with three points and no purple seats.

A strong defensive performance provided the foundation for NYCFC’s 3-0 victory Sunday night at Orlando City Stadium, the first team to defeat the Lions in their new stadium. It was City’s second win against the Lions in nine games and first of this season after two previous defeats. The NYCFC players and coach said on both occasions that they felt they were the better team — Sunday’s result just a byproduct.

“The way that we played today was quite similar than the last two games,” Coach Patrick Vieira said. “We worked much better from up front. As a team we defended much better today but the difference is that we created chances and we took our chances. We were doing it again tonight like the last two games that we played against them.”

David Villa scored in both halves and Rodney Wallace added another as the Pigeons leaped to third place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference standings. Vieira fielded his first-choice lineup with only Mikey Lopez replacing the injured Andrea Pirlo in defensive midfield. Lopez and Alexander Ring combined to stymie Orlando’s attack by clogging the space in front of the box, forcing the Lions into crosses from deep, which were inaccurate. With no supply, Cyle Larin was rendered an afterthought for most of the night.

Vieira said Lopez had a terrific game by keeping his passes simple and remaining focused on his defensive work. NYCFC (6-4-2, 20 points) raised its game to the occasion, adding that the task is making performances like Sunday night’s the norm. For the defense, he said that involves more attention to detail. Whether it’s for Ben Ben Sweat‘s positioning, Alex Callens‘ giveaways or the fraction of space Maxine Chanot allowed Larin the last time the two teams played.

“When you look at the games we played against Orlando, we always played a good game,” Vieira said. “Of course scoring goals and losing games are decided by details. Details was that Larin was in the right place, it was a good finish and you have to give him credit because he’s a good player. Today we played as well as the last time, we defended very well inside the box, we didn’t give them too much space.”

Led by Wallace and Villa, New York City’s attack started strong forcing a turnover and opportunity in the game’s first minute. The early pressure yielded a corner kick 12 minutes in that found Wallace at the back post. Wallace settled but his centering attempt hit Kaká‘s arm and Referee Mark Geiger immediately pointed to the spot. Villa converted into the bottom right.

“We’re very happy with the match we played,” Villa said. “We were better from the opening whistle to the final. We had more chances, more possession and we controlled the game. The team was very good, very compact, very together and we’re very happy with how the game went.”

City was content to let Orlando have possession after the goal with it leading to few chances but it was in this stretch that Ethan White appeared to sustain a groin injury while attempting a challenge. White received treatment and attempted to continue playing. Although he would be unable to do so, White made the overlapping run on right wing that put him in position to cross for Wallace at the back post. Wallace was first to the ball and finished. City was up two and White went off to be replaced by R.J. Allen.

Cyle Larin after missing a second-half PK.

Orland City’s Cyle Larin after missing a second-half penalty kick.

Allen atoned for the mistake he made in the same stadium on opening day with a tidy performance at right back. His teammates were able to gain control of the match as the second half wore on but were unable to find a third goal despite dominating the first 15 minutes of the half. Orlando switched to a flat 4-4-2 and pressed for a way back into the game and found an opening when Sweat pulled down Scott Sutter in the area. With Kaká substituted, Larin stepped up for his first professional penalty attempt and struck the right post.

“Orlando were a great side and gave us a lot of trouble all the way up until [the second goal],” Jack Harrison said. “I think if Cyle would have scored that penalty it would have been a whole different story, but that’s just how the game goes sometimes. We’re a bit fortunate today and we took our chances.”

The game opened up after the missed penalty as both teams sought the pivotal third goal. Donny Toia and Carlos Rivas each missed with headers while Harrison forced Joe Bendik to make a diving save. Sean Johnson was well positioned to stop Luis Gil‘s powerful effort in the 73rd, Orlando’s second-and-last shot on target.

New York City got the third goal and earned a result that matched its performance 10 minutes later. Villa brought the ball into the Orlando half and laid off to Maxi Moralez before continuing his run into space behind the defense. Moralez chipped his pass to Villa’s foot where he was alone to face then round a rushing Bendik and fired into the net for his eighth goal of the season.

With the win, NYCFC moved past the Columbus Crew (6-6-1, 19) and Orlando City (6-4-2, 20) in the standings.