NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – On a balmy Wednesday evening in the Bronx, New York City FC took on their rivals to the North, Toronto FC. One team was at near-full strength; the other was missing most of it’s stars (and even had the last one fall in the first half). Let’s take a look at the recap:
The first ten minutes were a battle of midfield will, with City getting the better looks up front but possession split pretty evenly. The theme that developed early on was a familiar one: NYCFC would dominate possession but their opponents would make the few chances they were afforded count. Just twelve minutes in, Ashtone Morgan would make the Pigeons pay. On a cross from the far side, Morgan snuck in behind Jack Harrison, who was caught unaware (notably for the second game in a row) as Toronto converted to make it 1-0.
The rest of the first half saw another familiar issue rear it’s ugly head: NYCFC just could not finish. The Boys in Blue were getting their chances, penetrating with relative ease on the backs of Maxi Moralez and Harrison. Tommy McNamara also got some service, but couldn’t seem to get clean strikes.
At 35′, Sebastian Giovinco ended up getting injured on what should certainly have been TFC’s second of the night. On a volleyed cross from Morgan, Gio pulled up and took a hit from Alexander Callens. The defense was clean, but the Atomic Ant went down clearly injured. He made an attempt to come back to play, but within seconds signaled his bench that he could not continue.
Just before the close of the half, on perhaps City’s sloppiest attack of the night, lightning struck. Villa took control of a ball only to be tripped up and dispossessed. Heads-up play from Harrison won the ball back and he laid off to Villa who finished as clinically as ever to draw level at 1-1.
The second half started off innocuously enough, with NYCFC showing a little more poise and calm than they did in the first.
At least for the first four minutes.
Jay Chapman – the man subbed in for Giovinco toward the end of the first half – nearly put the Reds back on top. Originally the goal was credited to Ben Spencer – who was onside. Alas, the ball ricocheted off Chapman’s thigh. He was ruled offside by the referee, and Greg Vanney blew a gasket on the touchline. For his trouble, he received a red card, was sent off, and will serve a suspension for TFC’s next match.
City was a little amped up after the sending off, but settled in. Suddenly, on a difficult transition from defense to attack, Callens, Ben Sweat and Alex Ring combined to work out of the near corner. Their triangular passing ended with Callens lofting a long ball down the touchline, finding the feet of Villa who tapped it to Moralez. The two were off to the races, with Maxi putting the final ball through to put City up 2-1.
As the time grew late, losing control of the run of play would prove costly (more on the ‘why’ of that below). At the death of regulation referee Jorge Gonzalez did the unthinkable and awarded a penalty to the away side for a questionable-at-best pull-down by RJ Allen against Jordan Hamilton. Victor Vazquez – the league leader in assists – slotted the PK past Sean Johnson and that was all she wrote. The four minutes of stoppage time proved largely fruitless as City mustered only a single attacking run.
For twenty minutes or so after the Moralez goal, we saw a slow but deliberate transformation in City’s gameplan. Once again, we saw another pattern NYCFC fans should recognize: late in the game with a lead, Patrick Vieira began to make defensive-minded subs. First bringing on Mikey Lopez for McNamara, and ten minutes later bringing on Ethan White for Moralez.
Vieira has continually made similar decisions. Late in games, leading by only a goal, he’ll bring the team away from what they do best: controlling the run of play and creating chances in the box. Instead, he opts to turtle up and try to weather whatever storm rains down on the City defense – something with which they have historically struggled.
Not only has he made these defensive subs, but in a midweek game with a follow-up against the league-leaders only three days away, he only utilized two substitutions, neither of which came before the 73rd minute.
This change led to a role-reversal in the closing fifteen minutes of the match, where Toronto were holding the bulk of possession and creating their chances while City were making a token effort on the counter. In a few spots, City threatened for a third goal but were thwarted.
“It doesn’t feel like a tie. It feels like a loss.” – Ben Sweat
“I think as a team it wasn’t the usual way we play and I think a bit sloppy and slow. I don’t know. For me, it’s difficult to talk about.” – Alex Ring
“I think sometimes you have to accept that the other teams play better. I think Toronto played better.” – Patrick Vieira
“We have to put ourselves in a position to see out games and manage games. It’s not going to be easy with three tough opponents ahead [Chicago, TFC, Red Bulls].” – Sean Johnson
“We have to take responsibility and not put this on the changes or whatever else.” – Maxime Chanot
“I feel like I should take responsibility for that first goal. He was my man and I was marking him.” – Jack Harrison
NYCFC’s next match will be Saturday afternoon at 2pm against Chicago Fire SC.