At this stage of the MLS season, we can confidently place a group of five teams at the top of the Eastern Conference hierarchy:
Other playoff contenders — notably the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Orlando City SC and the New England Revolution — will hang around, but the existing group of five will be tough to challenge.
To handicap the race, let’s take a look at each of the East elites, including what they do well and poorly and how they’ve played in recent weeks.
DCU sit second in the Eastern Conference, barely a nick ahead of a threatening group of three — Atlanta, NYRB, and NYCFC. D.C. are in danger are falling further behind.
Even as they stick around in the upper tier in the conference, it grows harder and harder to proclaim them as legitimate contenders. They’ve won just twice in their last 10 games.
Luciano Acosta is suspended currently for a red card, and has generally taken a step back from last season’s ascent to stardom. They haven’t scored at the rate most expected despite Wayne Rooney’s continued excellence.
By the time Acosta is transferred elsewhere (which seems like an inevitability, whether this window or next), D.C. will be severely missing attacking creativity. In fact, they’ve been missing attacking creativity even with Acosta in the lineup. D.C. rank in the lower tiers of shots per game and xG per game. They lack difference-makers — players who can find the ball and pick out passes that others don’t see.
Acosta has been a difference-maker in the past, but this season his productivity has waned. DCU don’t have other players who can both fill in when Acosta’s production dips and, most importantly, help boost the Argentine. They need a secondary creator.
Lucas Rodriguez is a dribbler, but he’s not a passer or an adept connector. Paul Arriola is a workhorse. The deeper midfielders have yet to find ways to impact further up the field the way players like Cristian Roldan in Seattle have.
D.C. have to surround Rodriguez and Arriola with players who can move the ball and keep D.C.’s attack from faltering. Rodriguez, while electric on the ball, has an xGChain/96 figure of 0.96, lower than that of Gyasi Zardes. Arriola is a high-caliber player, but similarly lacks the ability to find difference-making passes.
Above all else, D.C. need a shake-up. They’ve clearly stagnated. We’ll see what this transfer window brings.
NYC lost twice in MLS in the last couple of weeks, to the Portland Timbers and the Red Bulls. In between those, they sandwiched a penalty-kick defeat in the US Open Cup quarterfinals against Orlando City.
Pigeons fans need not worry too much about these recent setbacks. The Red Bulls loss had a fluky feel to it — NYRB scored their goals on a penalty-kick and a bizarre, controversial referee mismanagement situation. NYC had dominated much of the New York Derby. They had their chances against Portland, losing 1-0 despite dominating the xG battle. Penalty shootouts are basically coin tosses.
In general, City look like one of the league’s better teams, and hold games in hand on most of their Eastern Conference rivals. Their attack is deep. Younger options have emerged in midfield alongside Alex Ring; most notably, Keaton Parks has become an important starter, and James Sands will continue to have a role. Maxi Moralez is a legitimate MVP candidate.
Dome Torrent has his team spreading opponents out, sending the fullbacks forward, and thriving off of diagonal switches in the attacking third. It is an effective formula, but they have to be careful to prevent the well running dry.
Have Atlanta adjusted to Frank de Boer’s system? I’m inclined to say that they have, to a certain extent. They’ve worked their way back up to third in the Eastern Conference, and they have started to improve in midfield. Justin Meram has shown flashes of pre-Orlando City Justin Meram.
But when they win, defending and Josef Martinez make the difference.
Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba are still injured. With Brek Shea out for the year and Mikey Amrbose battling thigh problems, they don’t have a left back. Pity Martinez has not yet transformed into a world-beating superstar, and it’s hard to see that happening any time soon. They have a ceiling now that they didn’t have in the past.
The five-game win streak they ripped off at the beginning of May appears to have been a product of a weak schedule; they took four of a possible 15 points in the five games prior to Wednesday’s 5-0 demolition of 10-man Houston.
De Boer should roll with the 3-5-2-ish formation he tested against the Dynamo. Julian Gressel is best used as a wingback, and a three-at-the-back is the only way De Boer can fit the center back trio of Miles Robinson, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Michael Parkhurst together. Pity’s defensive apathy would be most effectively sheltered in a second striker role.
Atlanta will keep trying to find the best version of themselves.
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls, contrary to previous NYRB seasons, look set up to succeed in the playoffs instead of the regular season. They took some time to coalesce this year — a process that makes sense, considering the departure of Tyler Adams, injuries on the backline, Champions League congestion, and Kaku’s going off the rails at various times — and now they are motoring along at a reasonable pace.
It’s hard to see them going on a run and challenging for first in the conference, barring some big signing of a winger. Reigning Defender of the Year Aaron Long has been the subject of transfer rumors this summer. If they sell, they make things very difficult for themselves this season.
But aside from Adams’s departure and Bradley Wright-Phillips’s decline to super-sub status, not too much is different about this Red Bulls team from previous iterations. They play a similar style and press the ball well. In the waning BWP years (and first Brian White year!), they’ll want to make a serious run in October.
The current top team, Philly have been better and more consistent than every team in the East except for (arguably) NYCFC. They have the look of a bona fide elite, though the recent injury of Jamiro Monteiro has stunted their recent form.
They may be a bit overrated in some areas. Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie haven’t had seasons to write home about, though Jack Elliott has been very good at center back. Andre Blake is perpetually the most overrated keeper in the league. The signing of journeyman American Andrew Wooten at striker is unlikely to be a serious difference-maker.
In general, though, the Union are legit. Ilsinho is a weapon off the bench that other teams don’t have. Kai Wagner has been one of the league’s best left backs this season. The diamond formation has worked wonders, and continues to produce quality possession. They will face a battle to finish at the top of the conference.
All good things must end.
On Sunday evening, NYCFC lost 1-0 for the first time at Yankee Stadium this season to a deserving Portland Timbers side.
Torrent proud of team despite final result
The loss is also New York’s first in league play since a 4-0 pasting by Toronto FC way back in March. New York coach Dome Torrent thought that his team deserved better.
“I think the team deserved more. I am very proud of them. It is not easy to play so many games without rest. We are missing some players but is not an excuse, it is a reality, but I am very proud of them. They deserved more. In the first half, we made one mistake and when you make a mistake in soccer it punishes you.”
That mistake came in the 14th minute and resulted in the game’s only goal. Scored by Sebastian Blanco (0:50 in the below video), the goal enough to stop NYCFC’s unbeaten run at 14 games. New York defender Sebastien Ibeagha was the culprit when he failed to clear Diego Valeri’s free-kick, instead directing the ball into Blanco’s path, inadvertently setting up Portland’s goal.
Torrent handed the start to Ibeagha because his squad is shorthanded at the moment. NYCFC is missing eight first-teamers, including center backs Alex Callens, part of the Peru team that lost the Copa America final to Brazil on Sunday, and James Sands, who had been a regular starter before fracturing his arm.
Timbers’ Savarese may love New York, but keeps focus on Portland’s performance
Portland coach Giovanni Savarese has strong ties to New York and the local soccer scene since leaving his native Venezuela for Long Island University Brooklyn, through the New York amateur and semi-pro leagues, on to the MLS MetroStars, and finally to his coaching career with the New York Cosmos.
But after the match, the coach wanted to keep the focus on his team.
“It was important to get these three points to continue to climb in the table. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. This team is a team that can bring you some difficulty and challenges. They are a good team and that’s why they had only lost one match before today.”
Savarese added, “ We expected a tough match. Very proud of the sacrifice of the players the way they battled united, how we found the goal, how we created some chances, but we also had to deal with a lot. They moved the ball well, New York City, and they were looking for spaces. We made sure we worked as a unit and we were able to get a very important result for us, but it wasn’t easy.”
That sacrifice that Savarese spoke of included the team defense that frustrated a New York side that seemed bereft of ideas once it got in sight of the Portland goal. Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark had something to do with New York’s frustration too.
When NYCFC did find a way through the Portland defense Clark was there to earn the shutout despite New York’s 15 to10 shot advantage, that included five shots on target to just two by Portland on Brad Stuver in the home goal.
With New York pressing desperately to preserve its perfect home mark, Clark had to be alert virtually until the final whistle, tipping an Ibeagha header over the crossbar in the 94th minute to preserve Portland’s victory and the shutout.
Sunday’s win brings ninth place Portland within three points of eighth-place Real Salt Lake and four points back of seventh-place Houston and a playoff spot.
NYCFC remains in fifth place.
Up next for NYCFC
NYCFC Next Games:
Wednesday, July 10th – US Open Cup @ Orlando City
Sunday, July 14th – MLS regular season @ New York Red Bulls
|NYRB +104||Draw +260||NYCFC +240|
It was a day of contrasts for New York’s MLS sides on Wednesday.
The 3-0 thumping New York City FC put on Seattle in front of a pre-holiday crowd at Yankee Stadium was impressive. However, the New York Red Bulls traveled all the way to Texas only to endure a 4-0 hammering at the hands of the Dynamo.
With these results, the boys in blue climb above the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings into fifth place. The MLS originals slip to sixth.
Red Bulls missing defenders disappoint in Houston
The Red Bulls had fullback Michael Murillo back in the lineup on his return from representing Panama in the Gold Cup. However, they were without center back Aaron Long, who was in action in the U.S. semifinal win over Jamaica on Wednesday night. They were also without Kemar Lawrence, who lined out against Long for the Reggae Boyz in Nashville.
Additionally, Red Bulls coach Chris Armas was missing his other regular center back with Tim Parker through injury forcing 5’7” (maybe) Connor Lade to play center back alongside Amro Tarek versus Houston.
Armas also sat star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips on the bench, only using his recovering goal scorer for 17 minutes. Instead, Armas turned to youngsters Brian White and Tom Barlow, neither of whom were able to beat Joe Willis in the Dynamo net.
It wasn’t a great night for the revamped Red Bulls backline with of Armas’ center backs getting beaten for a goal apiece and Murillo ending the match in the locker room after earning a late red card for a second yellow card offense.
New York had particular trouble with Houston speedster Alberth Elis, who assisted on Mauro Manotas’ opening goal before striking for a late brace.
The Red Bulls will be looking to get back into the win column when they travel to Atlanta to face the Five Stripes on Sunday, July 7th before hosting rivals NYCFC seven days later.
NYCFC impressive in pre-Fourth blowout
It was a happier pre – Fourth for the blue half of New York, with NYCFC running out 3-0 winners on a steamy night in the Bronx behind a three-goal second half.
In the midst of a three game winning streak, and with one more match, Sunday, July 7th vs Portland, remaining on a four-game homestand, New York remained unbeaten at home on the season, improving to 9w-0L-5D.
Wednesday night’s loss is the third in four games for the slumping Sounders. Seattle will welcome the return of Nicolas Lodeiro for its next match on Saturday in Columbus. The star playmaker was late returning from Copa America action with Uruguay. Panamanian defender Roman Torres was available to coach Bran Setzer but did not get the call. Howver, Xavier Arrenga, Seattle’s new DP, made his debut at center back after wrapping up Copa duty with Ecuador.
With the USMNT having advanced to Sunday’s Gold Cup Final, Schmetzer will have to make do without Jordan Morris and Christian Roldan for another few days.
Neither side troubled the scoreboard operator in a somewhat disjointed opening 45 minutes in the Bronx but the home team finally got untracked, with a little bit of luck, in the second half. Maxi Moralez opened New Yorks account, and that was no surprise, given that Moralez has found the net in three of his last four games while notching either a goal or an assist in seven consecutive matches.
On Wednesday night, Moralez goal had a touch of luck to it, eluding Stefan Frei after taking a deflection off of a Seattle defender. Fortun played a role in NYC’s second goal as a shot from Vincente Castellanos was directed to the net by Jesus Medina for Medina’s first goal of the season but no such claims can be made concerning the final NY tally of the night, laser off the left boot of Ebenezer Ofori that beat Frei from about 242nd Street.
With the victory, New York continues to have just one mark in the L as it concludes its four-game homestand on Sunday versus Portland ahead of A New York Derby showdown with the Red Bulls on Sunday, July 14th at Red Bull Arena.
Seattle will look to Lodeio to change its luck when they travel to Columbus to face the Crew at MAPFRE Stadium.
Just a couple of hours after their landlords, the NY Yankees, engaged in a slugfest with the Boston Red Sox 3,000 miles away in London, New York City FC outscored the Philadelphia Union for a 4-2 victory at Yankee Stadium Saturday night.
And for all the complaints about playing soccer in the Big Ballyard in the Bronx, Dome Torrent’s men remain unbeaten at home in 2019. They are also undefeated in their last 11 matches league games.
Catellanos leads makeshift roster to win
In the first MLS action for NYC since a 5-2 home win over Cincinnatti on June 6, Vincent Catellanos was the hero, earning two penalty kicks, both of which were converted by Maxi Morales. Catellanos then scored two goals of his own from open play.
With NYCFC missing seven players, four injured and three on international duty, Casellanos’ contribution was badly needed, especially with leading goal scorer Heber out injured.
With his team shorthanded, coach Torrent certainly appreciated the contribution from Castellanos and some of his other bench players, saying,”“you know, it’s very important that I say that all of them deserve to play and that I don’t have a doubt about Taty because I say many times in the facilities, he never gave up and he did everything he could to convince the coaches.”
Torrent noted his team’s depth, adding, “I say many times, it’s impossible to play more than 14 players. And they have to be ready to play. And his opportunities are the same as Keaton (Parks). Keaton played the game really well again and it’s good news for us. And I don’t have doubts about my players, and I say many times to them, they have to be ready to play when I decide to play with them.”
New York had to overcome an early deficit on Saturday after Philadelphia took an early lead on a seventh minute goal from FaFa Picault, whose trap, turn, and shot in front of the New York goal was beautifully executed.
The home team got back on level terms when Castellanos drew the first of New York’s penalty kicks. Duly converted by Moralez for a 23rd minute equalizer.
In year’s past Philadelphia might have been expected to fold up its tents after coughing up an early lead but there is something a bit different about coach Jim Curtin’s crew this season, and within seven minutes Kacper Przybylko had put the Union back in front, set up by Jamiro Monteiro and Ilsinho.
That sort of bounce back attitude has the surprising Union sitting atop the MLS Eastern Conference. However, with four games in hand and its next two games at home, don’t sleep on NYCFC.
A flashpoint came in the 55th minute when Castellanos drew a second penalty kick after contact with the Union’s Alejandro Bedoya. Philadelphia hotly disputed the call at the time and former USMNT midfielder Bedoya likely earned imself a fine from the Commissioner’s Officewith his postgame comments, delivered, naturally via twitter.
Bedoya’s coach Jim Curtin had his captain’s back, even if his language was somewhat more diplomatic. “Castellanos was good at maybe embellishing a little bit and making it look worse than it was. On that play (Castellanos) doesn’t even see Ale coming. In my mind simple as I can put it: Ale is entitled to that ball just as much as Castellanos is. He puts his body in between the two, wins the ball. It looks like a hard contact but this is a contact game. I think the ref got that one wrong.”
Wrong or right, and for what it is worth, I thought the ref was on the money, Moralez buried his second pk of the match and we were level once again.
From there Castellanos the provider turned finisher, nothing the final two goals of the match to secure the three points for New York City FC.
Updated: June 10th, 2019
Despite a recent resurgence, reigning champs Atlanta United have fallen from pre-season favorites of +500 to +900. Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winner for best regular-season record, New York Red Bulls, dropped even further, going from +550 to +1600.
LAFC, who started the year at +700, are no prohibitive favorites at +200. They’re followed by Zlatan-led LA Galaxy (+750), the aforementioned ATL UTD, and NYCFC (+900). Eastern conference table-toppers Philadelphia Union have climbed from a pre-season +3300 to +1600.
The biggest risers from pre-season are San Jose. They’ve climbed from the cellar (+25000) to a respectable +6000.
(Odds as of June 10th, 2019)
|LAFC +200||LA Galaxy – +750||Atlanta United +900||NYCFC +900|
|DC United +1400||New York Red Bulls +1600||Seattle Sounders +1600||Philadelphia Union +1600|
|Montreal Impact +1600||Columbus Crew +2400||Houston Dynamo +2400||FC Dallas +3100|
|Sporting KC +3100||Toronto FC +3100||Portland Timbers +3400||Minnesota United +5000|
|Orlando City +5000||San Jose Earthquakes +6000||Chicago Fire +9500||Real Salt Lake +9500|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +11000||Colorado Rapids +12000||New England Revolution +12000||FC Cincinnati +20000|
Sometimes a draw feels like a loss, on other occasions the old phrase, “a tie is like kissing your sister,” is more apt. For New York City Football Club Sunday night’s 2-2 deadlock at Columbus felt more positive than that.
Given how the 90 minutes unfurled–with NYCFC trailing early, equalizing, and trailing again before leveling via a Valentin Castellanos golazo–the New Yorkers had to consider the club’s league-leading eighth draw of the season almost as good as a victory.
And they did. Well, mostly.
“Our intentions are to win the game,” coach Dome Torrent said in remarks released by the club. Noting that his team will play its next four matches in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium, Torrent, added, “it’s not easy to get points here (Columbus’ Mapfre Stadium) and okay, we are not very, very happy, but it’s not bad.”
Goalscoring hero Castellanos was perhaps understandably less conflicted than his coach in assessing the result, saying, “it was difficult, we knew they played well with the ball, but it’s fine, we came out with a tie that felt like a victory. Playing not so well in the first half and going on to tie the game is important.”
Inspired Crew start strong
New York was facing an emotional Columbus Crew side that was saying goodbye to U.S international goalkeeper and team leader Zack Steffen, who was playing his final game in for the Ohians before departing for Manchester City, interestingly NYCFC’s parent club.
Columbus, playing without talisman Pipa Higuain, who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, got off to a flying start, putting Sean Johnson under pressure early.
First, the 6’4” NYCFC keeper went full stretch to parry David Guzman’s sixth-minute effort, then Pedro Santos, auditioning to fill Higuain’s position, blasted just high of the NYC crossbar two minutes later.
New York responded well to the home sides early pressure with James Sands putting the disappointment at his U20 World Cup snub aside to lead a solid NYCFC defense.
Sands, however, could do nothing to prevent an error by his more experienced defense partner, Alexander Callens, who gifted Columbus with a penalty for his rough and reckless tackle on the influential Santos in the game’s 25th minute.
It was a tough ending to an exciting week for the New York defender, who days ago was named to his native Peru’s Copa America final roster.
Higuain normally handles PK duty for the Crew but U.S. international Gyasi Zardes stepped up in his stead and confidently blasted an unstoppable shot past Johnson to give Columbus a 1-0 lead that would stand up until halftime.
Torrent’s adjustment pays off
Trailing by a goal, Torrent rolled the dice, removing defender Ben Sweat before the end of the half for attacker Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. Torrent’s move paid dividends in the 56th minute when Tajouri-Shradi made a strong run at the Crew defense before his centering pass found Maxi Moralez, whose accidental one-touch pass found Heber in prime goal scoring position and the Brazilian did not miss.
The NYCFC lead did not last long. Recently acquired David Accam released Pedro Santos behind the NYC defense and Pipa’s would be replacement made no mistake to reclaim the lead for the Crew. But Columbus, in the midst of eight losses in nine matches, could not seal the deal.
New York’s equalizer came in the 75th minute and it was a stunner. NYCFC captain Alex Ring intercepted near midfield and fed second-half substitute, Castellanos. The 20-year-old Venezuelan took a touch and the let rip from at least 30 yards and Steffen never had a chance (go to 3:00 mark in video, it’s a stunner).
The 2-2 score stood up with New York’s record moving to four wins, just one loss, and eight draws. It is an odd record that lands the New Yorkers in sixth place, with 20 points, seven points behind first-place DC United, while the Crew remains below the playoff line in 10th place just three points back of NYCFC.
- Harrison Hamm joins to discuss the unexpected ascension of Philadelphia Union (0:30) to the top of the Eastern Conference.
- Then Harrison recaps the first MLS transfer period (16:00).
- Peter Nolan joins (31:20) to discuss the New England Bruce Arena hire.
- He also looks at the rise of NYCFC and New York Red Bulls (38:00), including their game against Atlanta United this Sunday.
New York City FC continued its impressive climb up the Eastern Conference table with a comfortable 2-0 road victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy Saturday afternoon in Carson, California.
New York was the better team from the jump, building a well deserved 2-0 lead with goals from Heber in the 44th minute and from a penalty kick from Maxi Moralez six minutes into first-half stoppage time.
NYCFC takes advantage of tired Galaxy
Playing their third game in seven days, the Galaxy looked lethargic, in particular, L.A’s 37-year superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who would finish the match in feisty form after a sluggish first hour or so.
L.A. came into this game looking for a little home cooking on the heels of a disappointing road trip that saw the Galaxy fall 3-2 at the New York Red Bulls and 3-1 at Columbus.
New York, on the other hand, appears to be a side that is finding itself thanks largely to the arrival of striker Hebert and the introduction of a three-back formation featuring James Sands, Alexander Callens, and Maxime Chanot.
With Sands back in the team sheet after missing the City’s 2-0 win last Saturday in Montreal, both elements were in place against the Galaxy in front of an announced attendance of 22,806 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Sands rebounds from U20 disappointment
Sands was playing with the disappointment of being passed over for the United States U20 World Cup team still fresh, as was L.A.’s 17-year-old wingback/fullback Julian Araujo and both players got the start.
High Press Soccer spoke to Sands about his U20 World aspirations following NYCFC’s 1-0 win over Chicago in late April at Yankee Stadium and the mature youngster was straightforward with his reply.
“Yeah, it’s in the back of my mind,” Sands conceded at the time, “but I haven’t really been part of that group.” “I’m trying to make a strong case for it,” Sands said, “but it’s not my decision.”
The man who made the decision, U20 coach Tab Ramos, told reporters in Manhattan on Friday, “I think Julian was a strong consideration, because in theory, when you look at the right back position where (Sergino) Dest is, there’s a possibility that if there’s an injury there, that’s the one position, probably out of the whole field, in which we have the weakest spot.”
As to Sands, Ramos has confidence in the players he selected, leaving Sands out of the picture despite his status as a regular senior player, a rarity among the central defenders on the U.S. U20 World Cup roster.
Moralez makes good after misses
After NYCFC dominated the first half, Heber broke the deadlock when he followed an Anton Tinnerholm blast that had been saved David Bingham in the L.A. net, beating the stationary Galaxy defense in the process.
Tinnerholm was at the heart of things again when his cross was handled in the box to set up a NYCFC penalty. Up stepped Maxi Moralez, despite having missed twice from the spot already this season, but this time Moralez got it right and the goal would be enough to secure a third win on the trot for the Pigeons.
L.A. would eventually get untracked when they began to rely on a simple game plan of pumping crosses into their big striker. Of course, Zlatan being Zlatan, he did get a couple of chances.
First Ibrahimovic was robbed by Callens with NYC goalkeeper Sean Johnson in no man’s land, then in the 80th minute, the Galaxy striker rattled the crossbar.
Things got physical late, with Ibrahimovic lucky to stay on the field when he and Johnson got into a wrestling match in the New York goalmouth.
Each player received a yellow card but some – this writer for instance- would say that Ibrahimovic deserved the harsher penalty for some sort of choking, pinching move on Johnson’s neck.
Johnson was still unhappy with Ibrahimovic after the match, trying to get at him after the final whistle. In true villain style, Zlatan seemed to laugh off Johnson’s outrage but when all cools down Johnson and his teammates will be delighted with the three points while the Galaxy needs to figure out how to get back on track.
- Who: LA Galaxy vs NYCFC
- When: Saturday, May 11th at 4:00pm ET
- Where to Watch: Dignity Health Sports Park and live on ESPN
- Odds: LA Galaxy +105 | Draw +270 | NYCFC +230
On a pleasant Tuesday morning at their bucolic suburban New York training center, New York City FC squeezed in one final practice session before flying cross country to face LA Galaxy and its outsize striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Saturday afternoon.
The mood mirrored the surroundings. With NYCFC riding a string of positive results, no one seemed unduly concerned about the team’s impending clash with the 7W-2L-1D Galaxy.
Which is not to say that New York is downplaying the task ahead of them. In fact, despite facing L.A. for the first time with Ibrahimovic in the fold, New York is better acquainted with the superstar than most MLS teams.
Zlatan a familiar foe for NYCFC
“I have good memories from Barcelona, this player because I worked one year with him (and) it’s my opinion Ibra is one of the best strikers in the last 20 years.”
Both coach Dominic Torrent and fullback/wingback Anton Tinnerholm have professional experience with and against the towering L.A. striker. Torrent, who has spent most of his career as Pep Guardiola’s loyal lieutenant, worked with Ibrahimovic at Barcelona as an assistant coach. While things famously did not work out between Guardiola and Ibrahimovic at Barcelona, Torrent chose to focus on the positives Tuesday afternoon. Said Torrent:
“I have good memories from Barcelona, this player because I worked one year with him (and) it’s my opinion Ibra is one of the best strikers in the last 20 years. For me (he) is amazing. Everybody knows how important this player is in the world, not in just L.A. It is always impossible to mark this player because he has quality feet, he has the quality to attack the spaces, keep the ball and score, assist. Now repeat, I’m very happy to meet again with this player because I have good memories in Barcelona.”
Zlatan will see another familiar face when LA. line up against NYC Saturday afternoon: former Sweden teammate Anton Tinnerholm.
Tinnerholm has just nine international caps, but the New York fullback/wingback recalled on Tuesday that, “I played against him a couple of times and I played with him in the national team, so I know how good he is.”
New York’s 2018 Defender of the Year, Tinnerholm is playing some of the best soccer he has played since coming over to MLS prior to last season, and when he was first asked about facing his countryman, the 28-year-old tried to play it cool.
“I played against a couple of other Swedes in the league but to be honest, I look more forward to get three points,” Tinnerholm said, before opening up just a bit. “But of course, he is the best player ever Sweden had, so of course it’s going to be fun to play against him.”
Sands appears fit for Saturday
New York recently made a much-ballyhooed switch from a back four to a three back/five back (possession dependent) formation. That new look will be put to the test against LA and Ibra.
We will have to wait and see who will be manning those positions, but Torrent appeared optimistic that his 18-year-old mainstay James Sands will return after missing one game with an abductor muscle injury. To these untrained eyes, Sands looked to be moving well while training with the injured/recovering group on Tuesday and Torrent’s comments only reinforced that impression.
“He’s much better,” the coach said of Sands, adding, “Jimmy maybe can play against L.A. Mata (Matarita) is a doubt, and Maxie (Moralez) and Eber, I don’t know in the moment because today they have a medical test. But Jimmy has more possibilities to play.”
Whether Torrent will pit the youngster straight up on Ibra is another question. It may be worth noting that the NYCFC coach said of Sands, “he can play, you know, in the center back and he can play the double six. We have to decide in the last one.”
Is stopping Zlatan the key to stopping Galaxy’s attack?
Watching the Galaxy against the New York Red Bulls last weekend, it became apparent that while “one trick pony” might be harsh, L.A. did seem very reliant on Ibrahimovic for goals, as his nine goals in eight games played would attest.
So, High Press Soccer put the question to his old teammate Tinnerholm, “Stop Ibrahimovic, stop the Galaxy?”
“Yeah, of course, he’s the most important player for LA,” Tinnerholm began. “So we have to handle him in a good way. So that’s the most important. Like I said before, we haven’t had any (team) meetings yet.”
With three days between Tuesday’s practice session and Saturday, NYCFC will surely work on a plan to slow the Galaxy’s Swedish superstar. As Tinnerholm put it, “we’re going to look at some clips and see what we what we can do. But I think it’s up to us. If we keep the ball in the team like we did the last couple of games they’re not going to have the ball as much.”
Tinnerholms words seem logical, “they can’t create as many chances, so we feel we do what we can do the best. Then we’re gonna get a win.”
Don’t look now, but New York City FC is currently 5th in the Eastern Conference and climbing, in spite of a preposterous six (!!!) draws from 15 matches played.
Saturday night’s 2-0 road victory over Montreal Impact places Dome Torrent’s squad just five points behind unlikely Eastern Conference co-table-toppers Philadelphia Union and DC United. Toronto FC (16 points), and Montreal (17 points) are well within sight of the Bronx Light Blues.
NYCFC go without star youngster Sands
Versus Montreal, Torrent had to make just one change from the starting 11 that drew 1-1 last weekend at Yankee Stadium to Orlando. That change was potentially a big one, with ever-present James Sands sitting out his first game of the campaign after the 18-year-old had played almost every minute of the 2019 season for the Pigeons.
The severity of Sand’s abductor injury and his time on the shelf is somewhat unknown, but the youngster will want to get back on the pitch in time to impress upon Tab Ramos that he is fit and ready for selection to the U20 World Cup team.
On Saturday, Torrent turned to reserve central defender Sebastien Ibeagha to fill in for Sands, and the 2017 USL Defender of the Year rewarded the coach with a solid performance alongside Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot in New York’s increasingly preferred three back.
Torrent happy with rising squad
Torrent was pleased with the win, saying in post-game remarks released by the team, “it was a fantastic game for us because it is not easy to play here. They defended really well the last three or four games. But I’m very happy because I remember last year how many problems we had and right now the feeling is much better.”
The coach attributes a good deal of the credit for the team’s “good feeling” to their new formation. “My feeling is they are happy to play in this system, 3-4-3. Sometimes soccer is about the feeling and the feeling is much better.”
The good vibes might have started sooner for the visitors on Saturday evening had Maxi Moralez managed to keep his feet on a very early chance that slipped away when the New York attacker lost his footing on a Saputo Stadium pitch that rivaled the notorious turf at NYCFC’s Yankee Stadium home.
But Moralez and NYC did not sulk, instead, storming back to open the scoring in the game’s sixth minute with Moralez latching onto a rebounded Ben Sweat shot, with Sweat having been sent in on Evan Bush’s goal by fellow wingback Anton Tinnerholm.
NYCFC went to the locker room with that 1-0 lead and having scored early in the first half, New York did the same to open the second stanza with a blast from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the 49th minute.
Tajouri-Shradi nearly tore the net off with his blast after tenacious work from Tinnerholm, who continues to impresses on both sides of the ball for NYC, although the assist went to Moralez.
New York continued to press for more and might well have added to their two-goal total in a one-sided second half.
Saturday night’s victory in the first game of a four-game road swing and the win makes it three wins and three draws for 12 points from a possible total of 18 in the past six matches for New York, a solid recovery following a worrying start for Torrent’s troops.
NYCFC have difficult upcoming slate
With LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire, and Columbus Crew next on the team’s travel itinerary, New York will be pleased with their form as they prepare to face Zlatan and company at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
When NYC arrive at Dignity Health Park they will find a Galaxy squad looking to bounce back from a loss to NYC’s neighbors, having fallen 3-2 to the Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey on Saturday afternoon. That loss has the Galaxy looking up at their “noisy neighbors,” LAFC, the second-year club that leads the MLS originals by two points in both the Western Conference and Supporters Shield races
The Galaxy, of course, is not just Zlatan and a bunch of nobodies. New coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto has paired Mexican international Jonathan Dos Santos and former(?) USMNT man Joe Corona to form a very solid defensive midfield that provides both a solid defensive base for L.A. and a springboard to link with what is admittedly a Zlatan dominated attack.
NYCFC will need to neutralize Ibrahimovic and New York’s forwards would be wise to learn from the mistakes the New York Red Bulls made against the Galaxy and step up on center back Diego Polenta, who picked the Red Bulls apart with long-range passes when left unattended at Red Bull Arena.
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.”
“I think he’s been our best player over the past few games.”
That was New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson evaluating his 18 year-old teammate James Sands Wednesday night in front of his Yankee Stadium locker.
NYCFC had just shut out the Chicago Fire 1-0 in a game that saw Sands shift positions in the second half from the center of a three back to his old and more familiar position in front of that backline.
At his post-game press conference, High Press Soccer asked Dome Torrent about his decision to deploy Sands at the heart of his defense. “We had problems,” Torrent explained, “and I say many times, James has this great quality, he can play center back, he can play holding midfielder.”
Torrent noted that he moved Sands up the pitch, “in the last 20 minutes because we had many balls between the lines (and) he can walk in as a holding midfielder.”
Confidence soaring in Sands
The level of confidence that his NYC coach has shown in his 18 year-old Homegrown talent, both versus the Fire and in general in 2019, is somewhat astounding when we consider that the Rye, New York native played just 223 minutes last year, having made just a 23 minute cameo in 2017.
When Sands started New York’s first match of the campaign, a 2-2 draw in Orlando, it was easy to presume that Sands was a placeholder for Keaton Parks, a 21 year-old American midfielder who came in on a high profile loan from Portugueses giants Benfica having already earned one full national team cap.
19 year-old Juan Pablo Torres had also arrived from Europe in the off season on a transfer from Belgian side Lokern and he had been a major contributor to the U.S. U20 side that won the 2018 CONCACAF Championship on the way to the age group World Cup. Torres tallied four goals and three assists for Tab Ramos’ group, a group that did not include Sands.
Eight games in Torres has yet to make his MLS debut and Torrent has seen fit to play Parks a total of 14 minutes to date.
Sands opened the season alongside captain Alex Ring in a defensive midfield role, often dropping back between the center-backs Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens. Torrent must have liked what he saw because he eventually formalized the situation, lining Sands up in the center of a three back set in Minnesota.
With Callens out, Torrent turned to Tony Rocha. It didn’t work out but NYC emerged with a point in a 3-3 match. Sands fared well in the goalfest and the system improved considerably when Callens came back from injury in a 2-0 victory at DC United.
“He basically did it all for us,” Johnson said, describing Sands’ position switch versus Chicago. But what the former Fire keeper admires most about his young teammate is his attitude. “I think the best part about him is his humility, his willingness to just put his head down every single day and continue to look to get better. You know, he’s not a loud kid but he’s got this quiet confidence about him.”
That quiet confidence was in evidence in the post-game locker room when High Press wondered if it was difficult to make that change mid-game. “Not really,” Sands began, “because I started the first four or five games at the six. So I’m used to playing both at this level.” Did Torrent send any instructions from the sideline?
“He just tells us to switch the formation, and I know the sets coming in.” It doesn’t hurt, I proposed, having a pair of veterans such as Chanot and Callens on his flanks.
“Yeah, for sure,” Sands agrees. “They’re always talking to me and helping me out and they’re helping me with everything and I’m learning to try and help them better.”
Although Sands was a regular at center back for the U.S. in the 2017 U17 World Cup side that fell to eventual champions, England, the NYC man has not been a part of the U20 team that is preparing for the U20 World Cup that begins in late May in Poland.
With injuries and inactivity a concern for a number of potential central defenders Sands would seem too good to pass up, especially given his strong play in a position of need for Tab Ramos’ team.
2022 World Cup in Sands’ vision
Naturally enough, High Press Soccer asked if the World Cup is a goal. “Yeah, it’s in the back of my mind,” Sands conceded, “but I haven’t really been part of that group.” “I’m trying to make a strong case for it,” Sands said, “but it’s not my decision.”
The quiet confidence and humility that his goalkeeper noted came through as Sands closed by saying, “I’ll just put my head down and work, I mean, I can just do as best as I can here and hopefully somebody notices.”
With coach Dome Torrent admittedly “in trouble,” NYCFC put together by far its best performance of the season to claim their first win of 2019, defeating first place DC United 2-0 at Audi Field.
With Torrent having recorded just four wins in 22 matches since replacing Patrick Vieira last season, City Football Group bigwig Brian Marwood has been spending time around the club. Torrent struck a realistic note when he told NYCFC radio colorman Glenn Crooks that, “Right now I am in trouble as a head coach – I know and I have to accept that.”
Traveling to the DC to face the top team in the division did not necessarily seem like the best get well plan for NYC, then again in recent weeks United have played like a team missing the old homestead RFK Stadium, losing two and drawing one at Audi Field.
First time attacking trio clicks for Torrent
Good things came in threes on Easter Sunday for New York with the back three working a charm while Torrent had recent signings Alexandru Mitrita and Héber both available to team with playmaker Maxi Moralez from the start for the first time.
The trio was a hit as Heber set up Mitrita for the opener in the 35th minute, and then closed out the scoring in the 56th minute with Ronald Matarrita providing the key pass.
Torrent learning from past missteps
Torrent learned from last week’s disastrous rollout of the three back, which fell on its face when the coach used Tony Rocha on the right side (regular Alexander Callens was unavailable). Torrent could have filled the spot with another player or held off on the formation.
On Saturday, with 18 year-old midfielder/defender James Sands flanked by a pair of dependable veterans in Callens and Maxime Chanot New York’s defense was solid, aided in no small part by fine defensive work from defensive midfield pair Alex Ring and Ebenezer Ofori, whose presence allowed wingbacks Anton Tinnerholm and Mattarita the freedom to bomb forward.
Combined with a smothering press from NYC’s frontment, Ben Olsen’s side had no answers. DC’s star duo Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta were quiet, although Rooney was dangerous from dead balls.
For his part, Acosta provided an occasional bit of magic, in particular an inch perfect cross to Rooney that Johnson tipped over the crossbar in the 21st minute on a chance that the former Manchester United man should have put away.
Otherwise, Acosta looked to be what the English tabloids like to call “unsettled” by a transfer saga that began in January when the 24 year-old Argentinian flew to Paris to sign with PSG only to see the deal collapse.
On Sunday, ESPN’s broadcast crew reported that scouts from Manchester United and Lyon were on hand at Audi Field, clipboards in hand, and that PSG may retain interest. Acosta might be feeling the pressure of that scrutiny. Similarly, DC United homegrown and U.S. Youth international Chris Durkin has been drawing interest from overseas for sometime now and, again per ESPN, Bayern Munich was said to be in DC for a close up look at the 19 year old.
Neither DC man impressed in Sunday’s audition, although one game will hardly make up any minds. On the other hand, perennially overlooked 18 year-old Sands was the picture of composure at the heart of the NYCFC defense – might Sands have turned some European heads?
Johnson came up with a huge kick save to spoil a DC chance from a tantalizing Rooney free kick in the 37th minute, part of solid bounceback from the veteran keeper in the wake of last week’s unforgettable howler in Minnesota.
Potential favorable stretch ahead?
Sunday’s win improves Torrent to five wins in 23 matches, but while we don’t want to get carried away with Easter and resurrection themes, NYCFC did impress versus DC on Sunday afternoon. There appears to be something to build on from back-to-front, although we will keep an eye on Mittrita, who left just after halftime with an ankle knock.
Following Sunday’s comprehensive victory, New York heads into a favorable niche in the schedule with consecutive home games Wednesday and Saturday versus Chicago and Orlando before kicking off a four road trip on May 4th in Montreal.
Two home wins and three game winning streak would be a nice way to prepare for life on the road, but Torrent and his team won’t get ahead of themselves, not after having waited through all of March and a long stretch of April for yesterday’s first victory of 2019.
After seven weeks of MLS, the Western Conference is nosing ahead of the East, reversing a trend from last year.
LAFC and the Seattle Sounders are likely the two best teams in the league (a case can be made LAFC is certainly the best), easily outpacing eastern leaders DC United and the Columbus Crew. With an undefeated Houston Dynamo, a CCL-free Sporting KC and spry FC Dallas, the West looks like it could produce a superior group of seven playoff teams.
At the bottom, however, the difference is stark, and could be spark an East revival. The floundering New England Revolution are the only bottom-tier East team that fits the profile of a true last-place contender. Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls will surely sort themselves out enough to accelerate up the standings. Hectic, draw-happy NYCFC could rise as well.
Five East teams are out of the playoffs as it stands, with each team having played between five and seven games: the four mentioned above, plus eighth-place Chicago Fire. Let’s go over each one, and evaluate whether they can overtake the playoff teams:
The Fire are a confusing team. They theoretically have at least some attacking talent, enough to win games and challenge good teams. Nico Gaitan arrived as a new DP talent not too long ago. With CJ Sapong playing either up top or on the wing as a target scorer, Chicago have versatility.
But watching them, it’s hard to discern what they’re trying to do, or any consistency to their approach. Aleksandar Katai’s role is ambiguous. The midfield can pass, but there is little connectedness, and the front four is all over the place. They have to sort themselves out before they can maximize their ability.
New York Red Bulls
Rumors of Thierry Henry taking the managerial job notwithstanding, the Red Bulls have underperformed to start the year. They’ve managed just one win from their first six games, and now will lose Kaku for (presumably) a significant stretch of games after he went a little bonkers in Kansas City.
One of their biggest keys to getting back on track is Cristian Casseres Jr. in midfield. The Red Bulls need strength and ball-winning out of his position. Stability there could rub off on the backline.
If the Fire are difficult to figure out, NYC are doubly so. Discerning what Dome Torrent is trying to do is impossible on a game-by-game basis. With five draws from six games, this is an oddball team. No one really knows what to expect from them.
It will be interesting to see how Torrent manages the playing time of his wingers. Alexandru Mitrita, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Medina and Valentin Castellanos are competing for the same minutes, and once Heber takes the starting forward job, none of them will be able to play as a false 9. Right now, it looks like Mitrita and Lewis are the favorites to start, though Castellanos had his best game in MLS last week in Minnesota.
Atlanta’s road win over New England will inspire renewed confidence in a Five Stripes team enduring a sluggish start to the season. Winning against the Revs is far from a difficult task, but there were positive elements to take.
Most notably, Ezequiel Barco produced a breakout performance. With Hector Villalba starting on the left side, Barco had space to maneuver and generate chances. His confidence looked as high as it’s been in MLS. More performances like that would be a boon for Atlanta as they deal with complacency and Pity Martinez’s injury.
New England Revolution
The Revs are a few classes below the rest of these clubs. Outside of a 2-1 home win over Minnesota on March 30, New England have very publicly struggled. Brad Friedel, looking a lot worse now than he did in the early days of his coaching tenure, blamed MLS’s structure for his managerial deficiencies.
The attack, as ever, is marginally good enough to get the Revs into the playoffs with a strong midfield and stout defense. Those things, reader, are not happening in New England. The midfield is a revolving door, particularly when Wilfried Zahibo plays, and the backline is leaky and mistake-prone. A high-energy press will nick them points, but teams figured the Revs out a long time ago, and they aren’t organized enough at the back to keep the ball out of their net.
Eastern Conference leaders DC United host still winless (with 5 draws in 6 games!) but hungry NYCFC.
MLS Matchweek 8 Game Odds
|Friday, April 19|
|FC Cincinnati -115||Draw +280||Real Salt Lake +280|
|Toronto FC -160||Draw +320||Minnesota +390|
|LA Galaxy -125||Draw +290||Houston Dynamo +310|
|Saturday, April 20|
|Chicago Fire -160||Draw +310||Colorado +420|
|Philadelphia Union -145||Draw +290||Montreal +380|
|Orlando City -175||Draw +340||Vancouver +430|
|Atlanta United -155||Draw +300||FC Dallas +400|
|New England Revolution +145||Draw +250||New York Red Bulls +175|
|Columbus Crew -170||Draw +320||Portland Timbers +430|
|San Jose +260||Draw +280||Sporting KC -105|
|Sunday, April 21|
|DC United -115||Draw +270||NYCFC+290|
|LAFC -140||Draw +310||Seattle +340|
Odds and Ends
- Yes, LAFC are the best team in MLS. However, some of LAFC’s placement as top team is because Seattle have two games-in-hand. Seattle at +340 this season against anyone is a bit long. Some value in Seattle at that price or the +310 draw.
- Speaking of draws, call it a hunch, or call it “they’ve literally drawn 5 of 6 matches to date,” but NYCFC at +270 for an even end results is a good price.
- New York Red Bulls traveling to New England are basically getting the exact same odds as Atlanta United did last week. ATL dominated. NYRB at +175 is tasty.
- And speaking of the Five Stripes, are they really back yet? If they’re win over New England wasn’t so much a sign of things to come as it was simply “New England sucks,” then Dallas at +400 or the draw at +300 are good prices.
Just seven days removed from Yankee Stadium SodGate, the mischief makers behind the MLS schedule sent NYCFC up north to play Minnesota FC as they opened their impressive new Allianz Stadium. After clearing snow out of the way earlier in the day, the teams played a sloppy, exciting 3-3 draw.
The stadium was story early on…
The stadium, sort of a miniature version of Bayern Munich’s larger stadium of the same name, is the culmination of United’s three-year expansion plan. It is also something of a stick in the eye to the NYCFC franchise that continues to play a distant second fiddle at Yankee Stadium, unable even to generate a decent stadium rumor for the team’s supporters to hang their hat on.
This Saturday #MNUFC opens @allianzfield. $250 million & 19,400 seats. The Beer Hall has 96 taps…and the stadium glows. The #Loons finally have their nest. That's 14 new soccer-specific stadia in @MLS since 2005. 🇺🇸⚽️ pic.twitter.com/RGazQFhF6O— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) April 11, 2019
And while NYC’s grounds crew spent last week replacing massive divots in the Yankee Stadium infield, their Minnesota counterparts earned praise for their work in clearing a spring snowstorm without causing serious damage the new team’s new pitch.
…then a wild game followed
That pitch saw plenty of early action with the sides combining for four goals in the games opening 20 minutes. The home team went to the locker room with a 3-2 lead on the strength of a Sean Johnson howler for the ages (1:50 in the below video).
Ozzie Alonso, brought in from Seattle to settle a Minnesota defensive side that became the first MLS team to allow 70 goals in consecutive seasons, had the honor on Saturday of becoming the first goal scorer in the history of Minnesota’s Allianz Stadium with a sweetly struck volley in the gam’s 13th minute.
With the St. Paul crowd rocking it was easy to forsee another disaster in the making for a New York side still searching for its first victory in 2019. Embattled NYCFC coach Dome Torrent had to be aware of City Football Group Football Administration Officer Brian Marwood sitting alongside NYCFC Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna in one of the new stadium’s suites.
Torrent sent his team out in a new three back set up, featuring 18 year-old midfielder James Sands at the center of that three back, flanked by Maxine Chanot and Tony Rocha, who had played less than an hour this season for NYC since being acquired from Orlando in the off-season.
With Ronald Matarrita failing to provide cover for Rocha, Minnesota exploited the left side of the New York defense throughout the opening half, leading Torrent to pull Rocha on the re-start while shifting to a back four.
The visitors were much better defensively after the substitution and the formation change. So, was it personnel or formation that was at fault? It should be noted that NYC’s right side was solid all afternoon with Maxine Chanot and Anton Tinnerholm working well together. Perhaps Ben Sweat could have done better than Rocha, particularly if Matarrita paid more heed to his defensive responsibilities.
NYC did show resiliency in bouncing back with goals from Valentín Castellanos in the 16th minute and a another from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi just two minutes later. Tajouri-Shradi assisted on Castellanos’ goal with Castellanos returning the favor on Tajouri-Shradi’s tally, although the latter was recorded as unassisted because T-S needed two attempts at his shot.
But winless teams are winless for a reason, and NYCFC could not make its lead last for more than two minutes, conceding a leveler to Angelo Rodríguez in the 20th minute. Like the Loons first goal, Rodriguez’ headed goal originated on the left side of the N.Y. defense with Ethan Finlay teeing up a wide-open Rodriguez to nod home from Johnson’s doorstep.
The home side might have taken the lead on the half hour mark if not for a great tackle from Matarrita but Minnesota did go in front two minutes later on a goal that Johnson will have a hard time living down.
Under departed coach Patrick Vieira, Johnson has made huge strides as a ball playing goalkeeper, to the point where Gregg Berhalter has recalled the New York keeper to the USMNT. But on Saturday afternoon, Johnson took a simple back pass from Ebenezer Ofori and turned it back toward and ultimately into his own goal for a head shaking howler.
As well as costing his team the lead Johnson’s miscue revived a reputation that the former Chicago Fire keeper had worked diligently to put behind him, that of a goalkeeper given to the occasional, inexplicable blunder.
The most costly of those miscues came in 2012 against El Salvador, when Johnson allowed a long range shot to bounce past him, costing the U.S. an Olympic berth. Johnson has fought that “unreliable” label ever since and seemed to have put it behind him.
To his immense credit Johnson has never shied from taking responsibility when things turn ugly and so he turned to twitter Saturday.
I owe all the boys one tonight for having my back in a big way! Everyone gave everything to get back in the game and go back to NYC with a point! #NYCFC— Sean Johnson (@SeanJohnGK) April 13, 2019
“The boys” did indeed have Johnson’s back against Minnesota, outplaying the hosts by a wide margin in the second half. Referee Alan Kelly and VAR combined to overturn an NYCFC goal by Castellanos, who tried for a “Bicep of God goal” only to be caught by the technology of the day.
Kelly also consulted VAR to overrule a Minnesota penalty claim, with Finlay correctly penalized for being offside prior to the infringement.
New York did get its equalizer, however, in the 64th minute on a deflected free kick from Tojouri-Shradi, who was credited with the goal despite a touch off of Minnesota defender Francisco Calvo.
New York would lose two goal man Tajouri-Shradi to a leg injury in the 74th minute before a disturbing incident that sent Minnesota’s Ike Opara and NYC’s Castellanos to the sideline after a violent clash of heads on a Loons corner kick.
Both players required attention on the pitch with Opara also bleeding. Castellanos attempted to return before New York’s medical staff wisely stepped in, ending what was by far the best performance of the forwards NYCFC career to date.
MLS Matchweek 7 Game OddsAs always, home team is listed first. If you need a refresher, visit how to bet MLS or how to bet soccer. All listed odds from April 10 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Wednesday, April 10|
|Colorado Rapids +194||Draw +240||Seattle Sounders +140|
|Friday, April 12|
|Chicago Fire -145||Draw +320||Vancouver Whitecaps +350|
|Saturday, April 13|
|Montreal Impact +115||Draw +250||Columbus Crew +220|
|Houston Dynamo -180||Draw +350||San Jose Earthquakes +440|
|Seattle Sounders -120||Draw +270||Toronto FC +320|
|Minnesota United -115||Draw +280||New York City FC +280|
|New England Revolution +145||Draw +240||Atlanta United +180|
|FC Dallas -155||Draw +310||Portland Timbers +390|
|Colorado Rapids +185||Draw +250||D.C. United +140|
|Real Salt Lake -115||Draw +280||Orlando City +280|
|Los Angeles FC -270||Draw +410||FC Cincinnati +650|
|LA Galaxy -105||Draw +280||Philadelphia Union +250|
|Sunday, April 14|
|Sporting KC +100||Draw +270||New York Red Bulls +250|
Odds and Ends
- In our marquee match-up, Sporting KC (+100) vs New York Red Bulls (+250) battle it out in Sporting’s backyard. Looking at both teams the past weekend, Sporting is coming off a tie away against FC Cincinnati (not to mention their tough loss in CCL) while the Red Bulls come off a loss at home to Minnesota United where the Red Bulls were seen to be struggling. In fact, the Red Bulls have only picked up 4 points in their last 5 matches. Pretty tragic so far. BUT, can anyone remember 2016 when Red Bulls were 1-and-6 and then ended up winning the Eastern Conference? We wouldn’t count them out just yet. Both teams need the points — for morale and conference standings.
- The match of the weekend in terms of current conference standing goes to Seattle Sounders (-120) vs Toronto FC (+320). With Sounders coming off a win at home while Toronto FC struggled for a tie at home last weekend against Chicago Fire, who currently sit at the bottom half of the table of the Eastern Conference, it’s easy to see why Sounders are the favorites. With all this being said, both teams sit in one of the top 3 spots in their conference…if I were Toronto, I’d be a bit offended by the value they were given. Toronto at +320 deserves a longer look.
- A value play worth taking a look at is Minnesota FC (-115) vs New York City FC (+280). Currently, Minnesota have accumulated the most away points (9 points) out of any MLS team in 2019. On top of that, they are about to play in their new home stadium for the very first time. Meanwhile, New York City FC are sitting second to last in the Eastern Conference which makes sense considering they’re currently without a win in their first 5 matches and can’t seem to score (statistics show that they’re averaging LESS than a goal per game). With all this being said, a value favorite is Minnesota FC.
- Another match to look out for is Atlanta United (+180) vs New England Revolution (+145). Both teams are sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. It’s still quite early to make a judgement call based on standings but, needless to say, both teams need a win. ATL UTD are returning fresh after a weekend off while New England are returning home after coming off a loss away at Columbus Crew.
That was the direct answer from NYCFC captain Alex Ring when High Press Soccer asked the 27 year-old if he had ever played on a field like the Yankee Stadium pitch that he and his teammates shared with the Montreal Impact on Saturday afternoon.
In the wake of Sunday afternoon’s 0-0 draw between NYCFC and the Impact, it was the turf on the Etihad Pitch at Yankee Stadium that was the biggest story of the day.
Sad Sod Saturday
On a lovely early spring day chunks of sod were regularly ripped from the ground, compromising play and jeopardizing player safety, as when Ring crumpled to that turf midway through the first half half deep in what would be the shortstop hole had NYCFCs landlords, the New York Yankees, been playing.
— Michael Lewis (@Soccerwriter) April 6, 2019
In a glum NYCFC postgame locker room, I asked Ring if he had injured his ankle when the replacement sod covering the baseball infield gave way beneath his feet and Ring did not hesitate.
“Yeah, it’s swollen. It hurts, unfortunately. What am I going to say? I can’t complain about the pitch but it happens after 30 minutes and you play the whole game with a sore ankle.”
Ring pointed out that Montreal dealt with the same conditions, “but everyone knows, you can see from the outside field that it is bad and the players can see that it’s bad and I think we should leave it at that.”
Similarly, New York’s somewhat embattled coach, the 20-feet from stardom Dome Torrent, preferred not to discuss the conditions on the ground at the Big Ballyard in the Bronx.
In his post game press conference, Torrent insisted that the problem was “it was a dry, dry field.” “Today,” the coach went on, “the weather was fantastic to play soccer.” Torrent somewhat undercut his remarks when he added, “it is what it is, I don’t want to talk about that,” before talking about that.
Again citing the dryness of the field, Torrent admitted that, “it is not the best way to play because when I say my players have to play quickly, one, two touches, they tell me sometimes it’s not possible.”
Torrent made it clear that he was not offering excuses, noting that his team did well on the home turf last season.
A battle of teams looking for momentum
Turf aside, this matchup figured to be a battle of two somewhat desperate teams, with NYCFC coming into this match in sitting in 11th place in the 12 team Eastern Conference while Montreal were still licking their wounds from last week’s 7-1 shellacking at the hands of Sporting KC.
Torrent made some changes from his team that was embarrassed 4-0 one week ago Friday in Toronto, inserting Ronald Matarrita at left back for Ben Sweat, Sebastien Ibeagha for the injured Alexander Callens, and speedster Jonathan Lewis on the left wing.
With playmaker Maxi Moralez still unavailable, Torrent moved recent signing Alexandru Mitrita into the middle but held out Brazilian newcomer Heber until right around the hour mark. Both Heber and Mitrita showed glimpses that the pair could eventually form a dangerous partnership but unfortunately for Torrent and NYCFC neither could emulate Alejandro Pozuelo, who notched two goals and one assist for TFC against NYC last Friday night in his MLS debut.
This goes down as a draw that felt like a loss for the home team, particularly with NYC enjoying a man advantage for the final 20 minutes of play after Max Urruti was show a straight red card for an overly physical tackle.
But for all its industry NYCFC could not breech Evan Bush’s goal line even when playing 11 v 10. For a frustrated Ring it is “our inefficiency that is taking a toll on us.”
For Montreal this result represents a nice bounce back from that 7-1 pasting last week at the hands of Sporting KC while New York will struggle to find silver linings as the team continues without a win five games into the 2019 season.
MLS Matchday 6 lines are out.
The marquee match-up is easily Eastern leaders DC United against Western leaders LAFC. That’s required viewing if you’re a MLS fan.
MLS Matchweek 6 Game Odds
All listed odds from April 03 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Friday, April 05|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +170||Draw +260||LA Galaxy+145|
|Saturday, April 06|
|NYCFC -140||Draw +310||Montreal Impact +340|
|Toronto FC -180||Draw +350||Chicago Fire +430|
|DC United +130||Draw +270||LAFC +190|
|New York Red Bulls -175||Draw +330||Minnesota United +450|
|Orlando City -130||Draw +300||Colorado Rapids +310|
|Philadelphia Union -110||Draw +260||FC Dallas +290|
|Columbus Crew -180||Draw +320||New England +480|
|San Jose +175||Draw +260||Portland Timbers +135|
|Seattle Sounders -230||Draw +360||Real Salt Lake +600|
|Sunday, April 07|
|FC Cincinnati +125||Draw +250||Sporting KC +210|
Odds and Ends
- So, yeah, we said it looks like oddsmakers have adjusted. Yet, the New York Red Bulls are heavy favorites against Minnesota United despite ‘Sota having a better goal differential (by 1, but still). How can this be? In part, the Red Bulls have been unlucky. Their xGF is less than their actual tally. Minnesota, on the other hand, have been lucky. Golden opportunity for the Red Bulls to regress to the mean and earn a W.
- Bottom-dwelling NYCFC, albeit at home, find themselves heavy favorites against mid-table Montreal. How can this be? Again, look at their goal differential. Both are -4 after four games. Montreal in particular is a sieve on defense, conceding 11 goals. This could be a high-scoring affair. Look at high tally goal props on this one.
- Looking for some value underdogs? Sporting KC at +210, a superior team to a still surprisingly solid FC Cincinnati, and FC Dallas at +290 against Philadelphia Union are both worth a longer look.
- A value favorite is Orlando City at home. At only -130 against a middling Colorado team, those are some short odds for a clearly superior team.
Watching Toronto FC dismantle NYCFC 4-0 Friday night from BMO Field, the film 20 Feet From Stardom came to mind. A wonderful documentary made a few a years ago, the movie focused on the talented singers that stand behind – 20 feet behind- legends like Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen and asks the question- why is it so hard to make that seemingly short journey?
The singers featured in the film are all immensely talented, can hit notes that the frontmen in question sometimes cannot, but for all that talent they remain in the shadows, support personnel, not stars.
The sporting version of this phenomenon is the journey from assistant coach to the head job. I don’t know the distance in feet or perhaps meters, but for New York City FC coach Dome Torrent,the trip from Pep Guardiola’s side to center stage in the Bronx is proving considerable.
Torrent last took ultimate responsibility for a team back in 2006 when he finished up at Girona, having helmed a couple of lower level clubs previously.
Since then, Torrent has worked with Pep Guardiola, every bit the superstar in the football/soccer world that Jagger or Springsteen is in the world of rock and roll. Torrent has stood those metaphorical 20 feet behind Guardiola with superclubs Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City.
So, Torrent clearly knows the sport, and he can obviously coach, but at 56 can Torrent step into the spotlight and lead?
A bumpy start that has not improved
Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira with New York last June, starting well before overseeing a collapse that saw his club win just three of its final 13 games. They limped into the playoffs where they defeated Philadelphia 3-1 before bowing out meekly to eventual champions Atlanta United 4-1.
2019 has begun with a raft of draws, three on the trot, and then came Friday night’s disaster in Toronto.
Torrent may yet grow into what is, after all, still a fairly new role for him, and there are reasons for Friday’s result that go beyond the Spaniard. Among those reasons was an inspired Toronto performance, sparked by MLS debutante Alejandro Puzuelo, who scored two marvelous goals and assisted on another, in as fine an introduction as we are likely to see in the sport.
As it was, NYCFC was scrambling defensively from the start, relying on VAR to overrule, correctly, an early goal for the home team, for offside, and on the officials to call back a second goal, also correctly, and also for offside, later in the half.
Offensively, New York presented little real menace, their front three of Alexandru Mitrita, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jesús Medina unable to generate scoring chances and forced to rely on scraps from a midfield lacking a true playmaker.
Toronto finally scored a goal that stuck in the 29th minute, coming at the end of a sweeping field long move that culminated in a simple finish by Altidore off of a sublime set up from Puzuelo. This time there was no reprieve from the officials or VAR and the 1-0 scoreline stood until the short whistle.
NYC started the second stanza energetically although TFC keeper Alex Bono remained relatively untroubled in goal. The match began to slip away from NYCFC in earnest at the 58-minute mark when center-back Alexander Callens foolishly reached out and grabbed a handful of Altidore’s jersey, prompting the USMNT veteran to fall theatrically to draw the penalty kick, via VAR.
Puzuelo took the penalty, embarrassing Johnson with a panenka that floated right down the center of his goal while Johnson dove to his right.
20 minutes later Puzuelo would pick on Johnson again, thrilling the crowd in the process with a chipped goal for the ages. Toronto’s new hero spotted the USMNT netminder a few steps off of his line and sent a delicate chip cascading over his head and into the NYCFC goal.
It was a moment of magic, one Toronto coach Greg Vanney rewarded when he immediately removed Puzuello from the match to a well-deserved ovation.
When Puzuello’s replacement Jay Chapman rifled another goal past Johnson in the 83rd minute, the die was truly cast with TFC moving to 3-0-0 while New York picked up their first loss to go with three draws.