Three games, three draws for New York City FC.
The Bronx Boys have been unable to hold two leads, the latest resulting in a 2-2 draw versus LAFC at a chilly Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Three games do not a season make, but NYCFC will want to improve on its ability to close out matches and to hold onto leads. It was just two weeks ago in the season opener that NYC blew a 2-0 lead against Orlando City, another 2-2 draw.
Cooling Off a Hot LAFC
Red hot LAFC came into a chilly Yankee Stadium in the Bronx sporting a perfect 2-0 record to face a New York City team still looking to find its feet in the wake of the departure of David Villa.
New York’s backline looked vulnerable in the early exchanges with star striker Carlos Vela momentarily left open in the second minute, before a last-ditch tackle snuffed out his chance. Moments later, Vela’s cross found Walker Zimmerman wide open steps from Sean Johnson’s goal, but the center back missed badly on his golden opportunity.
The home side survived those early troubles and began to show some menace of their own with newcomer Alexandru Mitrita and Maxi Moralez providing the impetus. Mitrita repeatedly brought the fans to their feet with his dribbling prowess, and it looks like New York scored well with its newest DP.
Still, for all their huffing and puffing neither team really tested the goalkeepers until Sean Johnson came up huge to deny Vela on a shot that was destined to dip under the N.Y. crossbar if not for Johnson’s intervention at the half-hour mark.
With Sunday’s news that USMNT presumptive number one Zack Steffen has been withdrawn from the U.S. squad for a pair of upcoming friendlies with what is being called a minor injury, Johnson’s continued good play will give U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter something to consider.
The breakthrough finally came in the 39th minute from Mitrita with the first goal of his MLS career, and what a first it was.
The diminutive Romanian took a pass from Moralez and turned on the jets to run at the left side of the LAFC defense. When Mitrita slammed on the brakes his markers flew past and Mitrita blasted his chance past a helpless Tyler Miller in the L.A. goal.
Even more frustrating for NYCFC was that they gifted the goal to L.A. with Maxine Chanot heading a clearance directly to Latif Blessing. When Blessing found Vela unattended the goal was on despite Mitrita’s best effort to close down the star striker.
That 1-1 scoreline held up until the short whistle setting the stage for a dramatic second half.
Second Half Changes, Same End Results
LAFC coach Bob Bradley removed an ineffective Christian Ramirez at the start of the second half in favor of Adama Diomande, while NYC boss Dome Torrent oddly waited until the 49th minute to yank midfielder Ebenezer Ofori for fullback Ben Sweat, a move that saw Ronald Matarrita slide up to midfield with Sweat taking over left fullback duties.
Both teams had chances in the early going of the second half with Mitrita denied in the 60th minute by a key block from L.A. defender Danilo Silva. But Silva could do nothing to prevent New York captain Alex Ring from blasting to the net just one minute later.
In fact, New York substitute Sweat victimized Silva with a strong run to the end line, keeping the ball in play despite Silva’s close attention, before his pass found Ring in front of Miller’s goal.
But once again New York could not hold the lead. This time the culprit was Sweat, who took a wild swing at the ball in a mad scramble at the NYCFC 18 yard box, connecting with Blessing rather than the ball. This gave LAFC a penalty kick in the 74th minute.
Johnson has a good record on saving pks, but Vela sent the big keeper the wrong way and cooly leveled for the second time.
In the end, Torrent may have been happy to escape with a draw, with two late L.A. chances coming close. First, in the 89th minute, L.A. defender Eddie Segura flashed in front of Johnson’s goal but his sliding shot sailed high.
Nervous times for New York but it nearly got worse when a miskicked clearance from Chanot fell to Diomande just a few yards from goal. Chanot was spared from his mistake when Dio blasted wide, saving the defender further blushes and allowing NYCFC to claim at least one point for their afternoon’s work.
The New York Red Bulls spotted the San Jose Earthquakes an early lead on Saturday when Christian Espinoza eluded defender Kyle Duncan and beat Luis Robles to his short side in the fifth minute on Saturday. The 0-1 tally put last year’s regular season champions on their heels.
As last season’s points leader, the Red Bulls raised the Supporters Shield in a pre-game ceremony prior to Saturday’s home opener. This only served to underline the gap in quality between the Red Bulls, who earned that Shield by amassing 71 points last season while the Earthquakes had 21, fifty points less than RBNY, the lowest point total in the league in 2018.
Not surprisingly, San Jose made some changes in the off-season, with the team’s biggest move coming behind the bench, where the Quakes made a high profile move to bring in former Chivas boss Matías Almeyda.
The Almeyda move brought a certain amount of legitimacy to the organization, but their remains a lot of work to for the coach to do before that positive image translates onto the pitch.
Duncan was replacing MLS Defender of the Year finalist Kemar Lawrence who is still out injured. The Red Bulls depth is a team strength, and it was further tested at Saturday’s home opener, with coach Chris Armas needing to replace suspended DP and assist leader Alejandro Romero Gamarra, AKA Kaku.
Kaku’s absence was all a bit of a mystery when the team’s talisman was left off the game day roster. Initially described simply as a coaches decision, it was later revealed that Kaku had been suspended for the match. Afterward, Armas said this of the situation:
“We had a minor internal issue, and we dealt with that quickly. It’s nothing to talk about or discuss here.”
Earlier in the week, Kaku had raised eyebrows when he tweeted, in Spanish, “Sad when you realize, you’re not as important as you thought.”
Kaku also was very interested in making a winter move to Mexican club America, raising the question of a possible lack of focus for the Paraguay international.
Muyl Shines as Red Bulls Depth Tested
The Red Bulls depth would be tested once more when Florian Valot had to leave with what looked like a knee injury in the 30th minute after a collision with Quakes midfielder Judson. Valot missed the majority of last season with a knee injury, so there was quite a bit of concern among the Red Bulls players and staff, who were understandably reluctant to speculate on Valot’s prognosis.
Alex Muyl replaced Valot and the all-action midfielder would turn the game on its head, translating his typical energy into tangible results, scoring a second-half brace to propel the home team to at 4-1 victory.
Muyl, whose work rate stands out even on the hard-working Red Bulls, has been criticized for his final touch, be it a pass or a shot. The Manhattan native has scored two, three, and three goals in his three seasons with the Red Bulls, so yesterday’s tally was as impressive for Muyl as it was necessary for his club.
Second Half Onslaught Leaves San Jose Quaking
The Earthquakes maintained their slim lead into the halftime break but Muyl’s first strike leveled the match in the 51st minute. Bradley Wright-Phillips started the sequence when he drew a strong save from San Jose keeper Daniel Vega. Vega was in hard luck, however, when his save caromed directly to Daniel Royer, who found Muyl alone in front of goal.
Muyl took his chance and the sides were level.
When Muyl struck again, the goal, if not necessarily the goalscorer, seemed inevitable. The score came from a trademark Red Bulls set piece, when Sean Davis fed Royer, after a bit of misdirection. Royer’s cross was deflected but still made its way to the San Jose goalmouth where the alert Muyl smashed home a close-range volley to give the home team the lead.
The Red Bulls had the bit between their teeth now and for the new look Earthquakes, a familiar feeling of dread must have begun to creep in. Two late and remarkably similar goals for the Bulls sealed the deal and left San Jose glued to the bottom of the West Coast standings with a 0-3-0 record.
The Red Bulls goals came from Wright-Phillips whose deft touch finished a driven cross from Davis in the 85th minute and Royer, who tapped home a similar cross from the opposite wing from fullback Michael Murrilo in the 89th.
Both goals came from the inside the six-yard box after the Quakes wide defenders had been beaten, an area of vulnerability that Almeyda will want to address.
As for the Red Bulls, it is always good to start the home schedule with a win but the old attendance issue raised its ugly head once again, as an announced crowd of 15,621 failed to come close to filling the reduced capacity Red Bull Arena, a sobering note on an otherwise celebratory day for the MLS original franchise.
On a blustery night in Torreon, Mexico, the New York Red Bulls came to town with their CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) hopes all but extinguished following last Tuesday night’s 2-0 home loss to Santos Laguna in the first leg, only to quickly set the tie on its head by scoring twice in the opening nine minutes.
Homegrown product Omir Fernandez set the stage for the visitors with his first ever Red Bulls goal in the fourth minute. The Bronx, N.Y, native beat Santos Laguna keeper Jonathan Orozco, unbeatable just seven days earlier at Red Bull Arena, to give the visitors hope.
That hope multiplied just six minutes later when Daniel Royer, who earned an assist on Fernadez’ opener, leveled the aggregate at two when he slotted home from a Bradley Wright-Phillips set up to stun the boisterous Estadio Corona crowd into something approaching silence.
In the 23rd minute, Orozco shut down Wright-Phillips, a flashback to last Tuesday at RBA, when the RBNY hitman fired at the keeper from close range. New York netminder Luis Robles did his part to keep the home team at bay robbing Marlos Moreno in a one v one battle at the 40-minute mark, preserving the good vibes for the Red Bulls just ahead of the intermission.
A Tale of Two Halves
Whatever words of wisdom the coach Salvador Reyes imparted during the break, Santos Laguna was a different team at the restart, immediately pinning the Red Bulls in their own end, earning corners and putting Robles’ goal under pressure. Then, as the Red Bulls began to work their way into the second half, Jose Abella fired Santos back into the second leg with a 72nd-minute strike that proved to be the beginning of a four goal in nine minutes onslaught that left New York in tatters, along with their CCL dreams.
After Abella’s opener, the goals came fast and furious for the home side. First from Brian Lozano in the 76th minute, then just three minutes later Diego Valdes got on the scoresheet before Lozano struck again in the 81st minute. That last goal from Lozano had to be a particularly bitter one for New York and its fine keeper and captain Luis Robles to surrender, as Lozano caught Robles off his line a blasted, Carli Lloyd style to beat the New York keeper from the far side of midfield. And so a night that had begun with so much promise, two goals in nine minutes, unraveled just as quickly as the Red Bulls conceded four times in that same time frame to see their CCL dream turn into a nightmare.
Santos win the game 4-2, and advance 6-2 on aggregate.
The story of Sunday’s 0-0 draw between New York City FC (NYCFC) and DC United was, not surprisingly, a game of “can you top this” that played out over 90 minutes between U.S. National Team adjacent goalkeepers Sean Johnson (NYC) and Bill Hamid (DC).
Speaking at his post-game press conference, New York City coach Dome Torrent said it this way, “Today the keepers, for me, were the best players. Sean for us and the keeper for DC.”
The coach added that he continues to see improvement in the play of his 29-year-old goalkeeper. “I am very happy with Sean,” Torrent said later in that same presser. He also singling out Johnson’s buildup play and noted, “every single day he plays better.”
When Goalies Shine, Offense Gets Dimmer
From a less optimistic NYCFC point of view, perhaps yesterday’s top news was the lack of goals, particularly with one David Villa scoring in his second consecutive match in Japan. With El Guaje now leading the line for Vissel Kobe, nearly 7,000 miles away from the Bronx, NYC still doesn’t have a recognized striker on its roster. However, Torrent sounded hopeful that help could be arriving soon, stating:
“We have the right people at the club working at that, maybe in the next two or three weeks we will be able to sign another player.”
James Sands Earns High Praise
Then again, the most important long-term development to emerge for the home team from Sunday’s stalemate may have been the role played by 18-year-old central midfielder James Sands. His coach certainly gave him a ringing endorsement after Sunday’s match, stating, “Jimmy is our future.”
The first player signed by NYCFC as part of the league’s homegrown player program, Sands has started the first two games of this new season after playing in just three games for NYCFC in 2018.
Alongside team captain Alex Ring, Sands was handed a big assignment versus DC and Torrent was more than pleased with the youngster. “He was amazing today,” Torrent enthused, “he controlled Rooney and Acosta.” As in Wayne Rooney, the former Manchester United icon, and Lucho Acosta, recent PSG target.
Speaking in front of his locker after the game, Sands was asked about going head-to-head with Rooney. “Yeah, I think it’s always a challenge when you play someone of that quality,” Sands remarked, “but you know I felt up for it he’s always up for it. So I think it just led to a good battle on the field.”
His goalkeeper was certainly impressed with his young teammate. “I thought you saw today a lot of moments where he’s really good on the ball, he’s calm,” Johnson began. “As a goalkeeper,” Johnson values the ability that Sands has to, “cut out important passes, make important challenges.” “It really disrupts the flow of the game” and Johnson adds, “puts out a lot of fires.”
Despite getting so little playing time last season Sands said of Torrent, “I think he always believed in me but I think this year I’ve felt more ready and I think he’s seen me as more ready to play and I think that’s the biggest thing.”
It sounds like Sands is at a good place to see playing time despite his young age. “It is never you are too young to play soccer,” Torrent explained. “I want to see the young players if they have quality – when you are 16 years old,” the coach underlined, “it depends on the quality.”
Still, Torrent would be expelled from the Coaches Union if he didn’t offer at least a word of caution on his young midfielder. “He is a clever player,” the coach said, “but maybe the next game (you) play another player because if you have a balanced team you have 18 players that deserve to play and as a coach, you make a mistake if every game you play the same 11 every single day.”
So, no promises then for Sands – just plenty of promise.
When the City Football Group, i.e. the Abu Dhabi United Group. i.e. Manchester City F.C. (they of recent financial fair play UEFA and Premier League investigations) elected to come to Major League Soccer, and selected New York City as the location for its team, it did so, one would imagine, with moments like Friday afternoon’s Media Day and 24 Hour, Soccer Never Sleeps event at Rockefeller Center in mind.
With a mini-pitch stationed above Rock Center’s iconic ice skating rink, in the very spot the world’s most famous Christmas tree towers each year, NYCFC seemed right at home amongst the tour groups, and tourists, business people, and passersby, in the shadow of 45 Rockefeller Center, a 21st century iteration of new money celebrating itself in this monument to a 20th century version of the same.
This event could be held in Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, or Whippany, New Jersey, where NYCFC rival Red Bulls train but it would be a different event minus the skyscrapers. For that matter, NYCFC could have invited the local soccer scribes and videographers, bloggers and the like up to its own Training Center in suburban Orangeburg, New York, but that is N.Y. and this team has always been keen to underline the C as in City, in its name.
Plus, where else would you stage a 24-hour soccer match other than in the City that Never Sleeps?
Catching Up with NYCFC New and Old
So, before the games kicked off several members of the team were made available to give their thoughts on their new club, their new role, playing without the former face of the franchise, and chief goalscorer, David Villa, etc.
I asked the new captain, Alex Ring, about the pressure of replacing the old captain, Villa, and Ring never flinched. “There’s no such thing as pressure and what other people say, the only pressure I gave is myself to myself. Otherwise, I just enjoy the moment, you know?”
“Yeah, trying to do my best – I think leading the guys out doing my duties out here but I don’t see it as pressure, otherwise I would be doing the wrong job, you know, you want to be in soccer – sports is pressure, if you can deal with it then I think I thrive more on the pressure.”
Ring scored a fine goal in New York City’s 2-2 season-opening draw last weekend, set up by expensive new signing Alexandru Mitriță, who will be part of NYCFC’s plan to replace Villa’s goals by committee. Gamely dealing with the press in English, the Romanian attacker said he enjoyed his first game with NYCFC, adding, “now, I make step by step. I want to score a lot of goal for this team. But we need to wait and I need time to make a lot of work.”
When Keaton Parks first appeared on the radar of the American soccer fan always on the hunt for the next big thing, the 6’4″ midfielder was working his way up the ranks in Portugal, from a small club called Vardim, then onto the B team of Portuguese giants Benfica, before a handful of appearances for the A team perked up U.S. based interest in the lanky Texan to the point where Parks earned his first national team call-up in 2018, the USMNT’s Year in the Wilderness.
Ultimately, those heady days did not last and Parks found himself back amongst the Bs with Benfica, leading the now 21-year-old, to accept a year-long loan with MLS and New York City FC.
So, why New York, I asked? “It’s just a good opportunity for me. I’m back in my home country and then it’s good division one soccer, so it’s good experience, and getting a lot of playing time it’ll be it’ll be a good, good step in my career.”
And how did the Plano, Texas native feel about getting that taste with Benfica last season, only to have it pulled away?
“Oh yeah, I mean of course I wanted to play with the first team but I’m just letting the pieces fall into place and now I’m here in New York City. So, I mean it’s working out, new stuff my career and now I’m here to focus on the MLS season.”
On Sunday afternoon, Parks and Mitriță, will make their Yankee Stadium debuts, while Ring leads the team out as captain for the first time in the Bronx. Last Saturday NYCFC blew a 2-0 lead and had to settle for an eventual 2-2 draw. It was difficult to draw conclusions about this team from week one, difficult to know what to make of this team.
On Sunday DC United come to the Bronx, and perhaps we will find out more about the post-David Villa, new New York City FC.
Harrison, N.J. – Goals on each side of halftime by Santos Laguna‘s dynamic attack pairing of Diego Valdes and Julio Furch left the New York Red Bulls staring at an early exit from the CONCACAF Champions League.
The 2-0 home loss leaves much work to be done in Leg 2 for a Red Bulls team that advanced to the semifinals of last year’s tournament.
Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips said post-game that the first leg home loss, “throws a spanner in the works,” if his side intends on matching or besting last year’s CONCACAF Champions League appearance. Wright-Philips said that the 2-0 deficit, “definitely doesn’t reflect the game,” and cited several missed scoring opportunities. However, BWP noted, “we created chances, I get confidence from that.”
New York’s English born striker accounted for both Red Bull goals in last year’s quarterfinal win at Tijuana, a result that BWP cited as a confidence booster heading into next Tuesday’s second leg on the road at Estadio Corona. One difference this time around is that the Red Bulls went on the road last year with a 3-1 win over their Mexican opponent already in the books, rather than a finding themselves in a 0-2 hole.
Santos Laguna Overcome Frigid Temps and Canceled Flights
Only a smattering of fans braved Tuesday night’s frigid temperatures that never climbed out of the 20s, with a sizable percentage of those supporters on hand to cheer on the visitors. After resting eight of his regulars for last weekend’s MLS season opener in Columbus, a 1-1 draw, coach Chris Armas turned to his first team to take on the Mexican side.
The home team was handed an early advantage before a ball was kicked as Santos Laguna’s inbound flight was canceled, leaving the visitors to finally arrive at their hotel on the wrong side of midnight. Speaking through an interpreter at his post-game press conference, Santos Laguna coach Salvador Reyes acknowledged that he was proud of his players for shrugging off those logistical difficulties, while praising Red Bulls as a great team and noting that nothing has been decided.
As New York imposed its will early in Tuesday’s match it was no great leap to suggest that the Mexican club was feeling the effects of their journey. The Red Bulls sprang from the traps quickly when Kaku fed Wright-Phillips with a defense-splitting pass, but BWP was unable to beat Santos keeper Jonathan Orozco, who parried Wright-Phillips’ chance for a corner kick.
— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) March 6, 2019
Orozco would frustrate the home team all night long (seen in the above video), although poor finishing played it’s part as well. With the match still knotted at zeroes, a pair of particularly egregious misses would haunt the New York side. The first came in the 35th minute when Daniel Royer failed to convert from Orozco’s doorstep after latching onto a wayward shot off the boot of Wright-Phillips.
Moments later, BWP was the culprit when he headed wide from a lovely cross by Marc Rzatkowski. Those misses would prove costly when Diego Valdes eluded the New York defense to blast past Luis Robles in the Red Bulls goal after a nice set up from Santos striker Julio Furch just three minutes before the half time whistle.
The Laguna attack, led by Furch, Valdes and Marcos Moreno, was causing the Red Bulls top rated back line all sorts of problems with its movement and clever interplay. This issue would raise its head again soon after the resumption of play when Furch put the Bulls in a two goal ditch in the 48th minute.
To their credit, the home team battled on. Things got chippy as normally mild-mannered midfielder Kaku got into an altercation that earned him a yellow card on the hour mark. The Red Bulls continued to attack Orozco’s net. Unfortunately for them, the combination of their own profligacy and the Santos Laguna net minder’s stellar play kept a goose egg on the the new RBA scoreboard at Red Bull Arena.
With the Houston Dynamo also falling at home to Tigres 2-0, it was yet another bad night for MLS teams when faced with Mexican opposition. Still, Wright-Phillips was undeterred in defeat. “I’m hoping for another Tijuana,” BWP said outside the Red Bulls locker room late Tuesday night, adding with a hint of a promise, “I feel like I owe the team a couple of goals.”
Yes, the Columbus Crew drew the New York Red Bulls 1-1 on Saturday.
But that wasn’t the story.
That there was even a game at MAPFRE Stadium, in front of 17,931 beleaguered supporters, was the evening’s big headline. It’s a story that had been played out over the many months since former Crew owner and Art Modell-wannabe, Anthony Precourt, announced his intention to move the Columbus Crew to Austin, Texas.
That the #savethecrew movement actually succeeded, and that the Columbus Crew still exist, was and will remain the headline to the Crew’s 2019 season.
Now About the Game…
On Saturday evening, the “saved” Crew played to a 1-1 draw against a New York Red Bulls side thatbrought new meaning to term “squad rotation.”
Saturday marked the debut behind the Crew bench of Caleb Porter, replacing Gregg Berhalter, the new USMNT coach. Porter, of course, made his name as a coach in the college ranks with the Akron Zips, before going pro with the Portland Timbers, who he led to the 2015 MLS Cup Championship.
So, with something of a local hero in Porter leading a team that most believed was gone for good, the Crew figure to get something of a free pass this season from their grateful fans as they await a promised new stadium from new owners, Dee and Jimmy Haslam of the Cleveland Browns.
No such latitude will be afforded the New York Red Bulls, who are still searching for a first MLS Cup Championship as the former MetroStars and MLS originals entered season 24. The Red Bulls enter the season as second favorites to do so, priced at +550 on BetStars NJ in 2019 MLS Cup Futures.
That lack of an MLS Cup has haunted the franchise, despite pains taken by all associated with the club to point out three Supporters Shields earned as the best regular season team in the league, the most recent of which came last season, only to be followed by yet another playoff elimination.
That last year’s playoff campaign ended in the conference finals to eventual champions Atlanta United must gall as much it encourages.
On Saturday’s season opener, Chris Armas, in his first full season in the top job after replacing Jesse Marsch midway through 2018, had a chance to test his team’s much-touted depth. Armas rested virtually his entire team ahead of Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League encounter with Mexican powerhouse Santos Laguna.
Of his regular starting 11, Armas started just three versus Columbus. He even went so far as to leave star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips back in New Jersey to prepare for Tuesday’s home game, lest he be tempted to use him. Only goalkeeper Luis Robles, and defenders Aaron Long and Michael Murillo began the match for New York, with Armas swapping out Long for his usual defense partner Tim Parker after halftime.
Armas handed regular season MLS debuts to Homegrown attacker Omir Fernandez, who started, and defender Sean Nealis, who was selected in the second round of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. Nealis showed deserving of the selection as he solidified the defense in a strong second half shift.
The Bulls benefitted from an early lead with Andreas Ivan slipping away from defender Harrison Afful to nod home a perfectly weighted cross from Florian Valot in the sixth minute.
Despite playing with what could generously be called a “B” team, Armas sent his young side out to play “Red Bulls soccer,” with the Bulls eschewing a more passive style in favor of the teams usual, pressing system.
Columbus tested that strategy before breaking through with a deserved 41st-minute equalizer off the head of Gaston Sauro who slipped in front of Murillo to head home a corner kick from Columbus maestro Federico Higuain. With Higuain pulling the strings, the Crew had the young Red Bulls scrambling. Robles was up to the challenge though, making a superb double save at the death from Afful and then Gyasi Zardes, no doubt frustrating the home fans who braved the cold Columbus night.
Now New York turns its attention to Santos Laguna and the CCL, a competition that an MLS team has never won in its current format. Columbus gear up for a trip to face the New England Revolution in MLS play next Saturday.
With each new season, there’s a new beginning. That was certainly the case for the 2019 edition of New York City Football Club (NYCFC) Saturday afternoon as it began life without club legend David Villa by suffering a disappointing 2-2 road draw in balmy Orlando, Florida.
New York failed to answer the one question that has hung over this club throughout the off-season: what will NYCFC be without Villa, the captain, the team’s first ever signing, the leader?
NYCFC Start Fresh Faces
No one player was signed to replace the departed Villa, although newcomer Alexandru Mitrita (highlights here) did line up at the top of coach Dome Torrent‘s 4-2-3-1, the former captain’s old position.
Torrent also handed starts to a pair of young Americans, 18-year-old James Sands, and 21-year-old Jonathan Lewis, the speedy winger that Torrent only recently cautioned might still need additional seasoning, despite having impressed in a pair of winter cameos with the USMNT.
A Sunny First Half Performance…
A visit to 2018 strugglers Orlando figured to be a pleasant place to begin the season for City Football Group’s New York outpost, after all, what New Yorker doesn’t enjoy an early March getaway to sunny Florida? Factoring in Orlando’s last place 2018 finish in the Eastern Conference, NYCFC fans had to be feeling good when Ebenezer Ofori fired home the visitors opening goal in the game’s 13th minute.
Further ramping up the feel-good factor was the quality of the tally, a 30-yard laser that immediately goes into the Goal of the Year file at MLS headquarters.
The aforementioned Johnathan Lewis justified his coach’s confidence as he claimed the assist on Ofori’s golazo, and Lewis was otherwise solid in a 72-minute shift before being pulled for Jesus Medina.
If NYCFC had any hopes that Orlando would capitulate in the wake Ofori’s strike, the home team quickly put those thoughts to rest, coming close to an equalizer just moments after the re-start when Chris Mueller fired just wide of Sean Johnson‘s goalpost after a sublime set up from Sacha Kljestan.
Mueller’s near miss fired up the announced crowd of 25,527 at the impressive Orlando City Stadium. Orlando City SC seemed to feed off that energy, putting NYCFC back on its heels for much of the rest of the first half.
That first half included a water break at the half-hour mark, with the central Florida temperatures reaching 85 degrees, quite the contrast to snowy New York, and of course Commerce, Colorado where the Rapids and Portland Timbers played to a 3-3 draw in the coldest MLS match ever played, with temperatures of 13 degrees reported at kickoff.
That Orlando enjoyed a 61% to 39% possession advantage in the opening stanza was at least partly intentional on New York’s part, as Torrent played midfielder Sands as a defacto third center back for much of the first half, perhaps as a nod to the early season heat.
That left NYCFC to rely on counter attacks. That strategy paid off right before the halftime whistle when a superb through ball from Mitrita nutmegged an Orlando defender to send NYCFC captain Alex Ring in alone on Orlando keeper Brian Rowe. Ring finished cooly, and NYCFC headed for the locker room with a 2-0 lead.
…Went Cold in the Second Half
Mueller began the Orlando comeback in the 59th minute with an innocuous-looking free kick that eluded New York netminder Sean Johnson along with the entire NYCFC defense with a ball that eventually found itself gently shaking the net behind Johnson.
With the crowd chanting his name, Orlando City’s new Designated Player, Nani, checked in at the 70-minute mark, replacing Sebastian Mendez. Five minutes later, the man who never quite lived down not being Ronaldo made his first contribution a telling one, with a line breaking pass to fellow sub Dom Dwyer, who put the ball on a platter for Tesho Akindele to beat Johnson for the 75th-minute equalizer.
The disappointment of blowing a two-goal lead would eventually give way to relief at escaping Orlando with a draw, with the visitors receiving a gift from referee Baldomero Toledo, who despite help for the VAR, somehow managed to miss a clear handball from Maxime Chanot.