Villa brace leads NYCFC to oasis, downs Whitecaps

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

As the final whistle sounded at Yankee Stadium, some New York City FC players looked to the sky.

David Villa collapsed to the ground.

“I nearly died,” Villa said, “I was tired, emotional since we won the game. We played 90 minutes three times this week and I’m a little old.”

City snapped its seven-game winless streak defeating the Vancouver Whitecaps 3–2. Villa scored his third brace of the season. Steven Mendoza scored the game-winning goal in the 73rd minute. The near-post finish was Mendoza’s first goal in MLS ending a winless streak that began the day after he joined the team.

“Since they called me to New York, I was asked to participate and to get goals,” Mendoza said through a translator, “that was my objective. It was really good that I did that today.”

After giving the Montreal Impact a late equalizer last Wednesday, NYCFC’s gave the Whitecaps an early opener. Nicolás Mezquida blocked Josh Saunders‘ clearance and Octavio Rivero finished with the shot deflecting off Saunders.

With that, weeks of criticism for Saunders were validated within 36 seconds.

Saunders heard the Bronx Cheers every time he made a successful clearance for the rest of the match. The cynicism for the only goalkeeper NYCFC have used in league play grew when he spilled Christian Bolaños‘ penalty kick, allowing Bolaños to tie the game at two on the rebound. After that, Saunders had two successful punches and two saves.

“Josh showed his experience,” head coach Patrick Vieira said. “He showed his personality. When you concede a goal like that—especially early in the game, it’s not easy. After that, he was composed. He made some really good decisions. I’m really pleased with his performance. He’s one of the leaders of the team and I think he showed his mental strength because after the mistake he concentrated on the game.”

Saunders’ concessions were atoned by City’s attack. They had their most prolific game since the season opener, their last win. Khiry Shelton created their first goal dispossessing Andrew Jacobson before playing a through-ball to Villa that he finished into the bottom corner. Thomas McNamara and Ronald Matarrita combined down the left wing and McNamara’s cross found Mendoza as he entered the area’s far side. Mendoza took a touch and snapped his shot by David Ousted and inside the near post.

NYCFC’s third goal secured the result but their second — Villa’s second — was the sweetest and most seminal. Villa praised Vieira for his library of set piece designs. The team studies it every week during the only part of practice when Vieira asks the media to leave their position.

Fréderic Brillant’s pick stopped two Whitecaps defenders as Villa slipped around and positioned himself at the far post. Andrea Pirlo took the corner and Villa stepped back, leaned to the left and wrapped his right foot around the ball as it dropped. The goal was Villa’s 24th in MLS.

“There’s nothing I can say about David Villa that you don’t already know,” Vieira said. “He is a terrific and fantastic player. When you look at the last two games that he played and the energy that he put into the field. He’s fantastic. I believe in football there is two different types of leaders: the one who is vocal and the one who expresses his talent and works hard.

“David is not really vocal but the way he works on the field, he sends a message to the players…To have such a talent and to have players working really hard around him, that helps him express his talent. He was a good captain today.”