Playing their third game in seven days, NYCFC conceded a first-half goal to Nani, Orlando City’s red hot DP, but still had enough left in the tank to rally for a 1-1 draw on Heber’s 51st-minute strike.
With the home team dominating the early proceedings, Nani capitalized on a weak clearance to net a 19th minute goal. The score ended NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson’s shutout streak at 256 minutes, and marked Nani’s fifth consecutive match with a goal. Cristiano Ronaldo’s ex-running mate celebrated five straight games with goals with backflips.
Heber finds an equalizer
Heber is New York’s less well-known version of Nani- and by less well know, I mean completely unknown. A Brazilian striker, Heber landed in the Bronx from HNK Rijeka in the Croatian First Football League and has been gradually worked into the lineup by Dome Torrent, who indicated pre-game that his new DP would be unlikely to go the full 90 versus Orlando.
But on a pleasant but not overly warm Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, the Brazilian looked spry, no more so than when he pounced on a rebound from a Maxi Morales shot that was saved off of the post by Orlando keeper Brian Rowe after a nice one-two with James Sands set up by Morales.
NYC coach Dome Torrent said of Heber:
“I think with Heber we have the right player, right now.”
Torrent was not interested in talking about why it took so long the get the Brazilian in the fold, although he did mention the restrictive MLS rules, salary cap, etc. No, Torrent preferred to let it be known that “right now I’m very happy with Heber, with Mitty (Mitrita), with the new players.”
And why not? Despite the end of the winning streak, New York is undefeated in five consecutive games and as fullback Ben Sweat put it, “there was a slow start for sure but at the end of the day we’ve only lost one match.”
Sweat, playing for the injured Ronald Matarrita, who has recently gotten the leg up on Sweat in the pair’s ongoing battle to be NYCFC’s first choice left fullback, likes where the team is heading. “I think we’re starting to find a good rhythm and, you know, a good system, and we’re playing good football, and we’re all working hard for each other.”
New York began the season in desperate need of a goal scoring striker to fill, at least partially, the enormous hole left in the lineup by the off-season departure to Japan of the club’s first and best player David Villa.
Alexandru Mitrita signed on shortly before Heber but the Romanian was, as advertised, more of a winger than the number nine that NYCFC was desperately lacking. Knowing his importance to the team Heber was anxious to go as long as he was able versus Orlando, despite Torrent’s pre-game declaration.
Gamely fielding post-game questions in English, Hebert told the assembled media, “I feel very good,” noting of Torrent, “during the game he asked me many times how I was and (I said) I’m very good.” “In this type of the game,” the newcomer added, “all players want to play and I cannot go out (of the game) and I want to be on the pitch to help my teammates.”
Either team could have won this game as easily as lost it, and both sides can point to opportunities squandered and bad fortune in what was at times a very sloppy match. New York’s Alexander Callens was saved by a linesman’s flag when he fell over to allow a brutal Orlando goal that would have made the score 2-0.
New York’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi watched his long-range effort roll slowly past an empty Orlando goal while Orlando sub-Dom Dwyer had the miss of the match when he somehow headed wide from a virtually unmissable position after a great run and cross from the aforementioned Ruan.
Given all of that, neither coach had too many complaints as reflected in their postgame remarks. Orlando supremo James O’Connor, who has his team in a playoff position after a tough 2018, noted that “obviously a very hard-fought game for both teams,” adding, “a draw is probably a fair result.”
For Torrent, whose team sits one spot behind Orlando in seventh place, the result, “is not bad for us because three games in seven days. I was concerned about the heavy legs,” who was pleased with how his players responded to the workload.
How pleased? “The players,” Torrent said, “therefore were amazing.”