New York City FC looked to be firing on most cylinders early on, and saw an unexpected appearance from newly-signed Designated Player Maxi Moralez, but ejections to both Patrick Vieira and captain David Villa (after the use of the Video Assistant Referee) doomed an otherwise telling 3-1 loss to Houston in the desert last night. Defensive miscues plagued City throughout the match, and at a time where certain jobs are up for grabs, this match may have leveled the playing field between incumbents and newcomers.
Maxi Moralez, Jack Harrison and David Villa combined to produce an exciting peek into what could become a deadly counter-attacking trio. Moralez willed himself through the Houston defense on a breakaway before laying off to Harrison, who held the ball just long enough to get pursuing defenders to commit and hitting David Villa on the outside. The captain teed up and put it away on the far post, uncontested. As much as Villa put the finishing touch on, City’s lone goal belongs to Maxi and Jack. Moralez broke the attack loose, and Harrison showcased a tactical mind, keeping three defenders occupied, leaving Villa all alone up the near side to take his time.
Tommy McNamara stepped up into an every-man role once Villa was sent off for his slap to A.J. DeLaGarza. He played at center forward, center mid, everywhere. He made a monumental effort to draw City level in the second half, getting a first, second and third touch on one ball bouncing around the box before willing it to Harrison who put the shot on net only to have it saved.
Jalen Brown made the best of a bad situation when he was subbed on, harassing the Houston midfield and defense and creating some chances for City to draw level. Brown even created a chance of his own, putting the ball on frame, but it was easily saved. It’s important to keep perspective, and Brown was playing against his trialist counterparts from Houston, but if he can keep standing out in those situations he’ll put himself in a terrific position for a job offer.
Sean Johnson had a decent game in goal. The thing to watch for Johnson is his distribution, which wasn’t awful but wasn’t great either. He’s at the mercy of the positional awareness of his defense (which we’ll discuss lower down), but in general he made good decisions, and punted the ball down field when he felt he didn’t have a safe outlet. As the first half wore on, Houston’s forwards grew bolder in their pressing and those safe passing lanes dwindled – something the center-backs and keepers will need to work on.
The hype train hit the brakes a little on academy prospect James Sands last night. To be clear, Sands has performed phenomenally overall this preseason, and the 16-year-old was bound to see some kind of regression. At times last night, he was trying to be too much. His passes were quick – within two touches – but inaccurate or without enough oomph to get them where they needed to go (he did have one fantastic downfield look toward R.J. Allen, though). Objectively, though, Sands gave the ball away far too much in our own half. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of him in this tournament and get a feel for how he responds to having a below-average showing.
While David Villa did net City’s only goal, the foul for which he was sent off was silly, stupid and not the example a team captain and league ambassador should be setting – especially on a team rife with young guys new to the professional environment. It was only a tap, but to the face, and that’s the price you pay. It likely ended up costing City points, but this is only a preseason tournament.
Frederic Brillant and Maxime Chanot had an absolutely terrible match. The back line was rife with miscommunication, poor positioning, poor tracking and vision – just an all around disappointing performance from the incumbent starters. With Alexander Callens waiting in the wings, one has to wonder if we’ll see one of these two lose their spot before the season opener. If there is one excuse to be made for their performance, it’s that their defensive help – James Sands – is an academy player who may be unfamiliar with the nuances of the position and what kind of help he’s supposed to be giving them. However, that doesn’t excuse some of the poor decision-making made by the CB tandem. Positioning themselves in deep corners for outlet passes, both collapsing on the ball in the box, leaving people unmarked – it needs to be worked out.
But that’s what preseason is for.
We will see how this new City squad responds in their next match, Wednesday afternoon at 1pm against Colorado.