EAST HARTFORD, NY – New York City FC played their first-ever “home away from home” match against Houston Dynamo on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Let’s see how it went.
Fans were treated to the extremely welcome news that Alex Ring would be making his return to the starting eleven prior to the game. David Villa made his return at forward, and Andraz Struna made his first start in City blue.
Struna wasted no time having an impact. In the 6th minute, the Slovenian international dribbled up the far side right into the corner. He launched a cross right inside his near post (which may have taken a deflection) only for Maxi Moralez to sneak in and head the ball past Tyler Deric. The goal marked the Argentinian’s fifth of the year, and Struna’s first assist in MLS.
Houston would waste little time drawing even. With a paltry 1-9-5 record on the road, the Dynamo looked to change their fortunes. In the 16th minute, Vincente Sanchez slotted a quick free kick to Brazilian Mauro Manotas, who put the ball away for the visitors.
Houston had been undefeated in matches in which Manotas scored. A stat that would prove ominous for the Pigeons.
The first half saw a lot of players going to ground but strangely no bookings from referee Allen Chapman – who could have booked Deric in the first minute of the game for an aggressive tackle on Villa.
Houston came out swinging in the second half. Manotas got two more looks at goal and was unlucky to not put the game out of reach. First, Manotas simply lost his footing in the box and couldn’t get a clean strike. Minutes later, the ball rolled lazily across the mouth of goal untouched for a goal kick.
Beyond that, NYCFC did not follow the wishes of Patrick Vieira. In training this week, Vieira said NYCFC needed to finish their opportunities – the team was creating chances but not getting the results.
Saturday afternoon saw more of the same, as the second half dwindled away, City saw shot after shot skied over the bar. Deric gobbled up everything that got even remotely near him. Sean Johnson made a crucial save in stoppage time on a breakaway that held the point for the Boys in Blue.
In the end, the match resembled two tired boxers taking desperate swings at each other. Each team absorbed a lot of pressure, and attacks nearly always came on some kind of breakaway. Vieira used Rodney Wallace, RJ Allen and Khiry Shelton as his substitutes – so he was most certainly looking to come away with three from this match. The entire team looked gassed by the time Chapman blew the whistle.
The 1-1 draw comes at an inopportune time, with the teams below them in the East finding some form and playing well. If NYCFC keeps dropping points against clubs they should beat, they may find themselves without a desperately needed break in the playoffs.
The path doesn’t get easier next week, when the club travels to Montreal to take on the resurgent Impact.