NEW YORK CITY, NY – New York City FC took all three points from struggling Orlando City SC early Saturday evening. City fans had reason for concern early, as news broke that last week’s goal-scorers – David Villa and Anton Tinnerholm – would both be sitting the match as a precaution. Jo Inge Berget also remained sidelined with an illness.
Patrick Vieira’s men ran a solid (if frustrating) match without their captain at the helm for the first time in 2018. While his teammates could have perhaps done a little better with the opportunities they had, Ishmael Tajouri-Shradi (with a little help from Joe Bendik) put the Pigeons up 1-0 in the 62nd minute – the newcomer’s first in City blue. Not long after, Maxi Moralez would put the game away for good as he capitalized on good build-up from Jesus Medina and Tinnerholm-stand-in Saad Abdul-Salaam to make it 2-0.
Orlando, who had won three of the last four matches played between the clubs, has struggled in the early-going as Jason Kreis waits for some key players to return from injury. Still, NYCFC were able to keep Sacha Kljestan and Justin Meram – two major improvements for the Lions in 2018 – in check. It seems without Cyle Larin, Orlando loses a bit of their magic.
Depth Charge: With the late announcement regarding Villa, Tinnerholm and Berget, it was easy to be wary. The depth of this team is undoubtedly much improved, but to get so strong a test so suddenly would put nerves in most people. Thankfully, Tajouri and Abdul-Salaam stepped up nicely with the former even netting himself a goal. 2017 saw NYCFC struggle for points absent Villa, but the 2018 iteration seems to have a little more variety when it comes to finding the back of the net.
The Real Deal: I’ve been wary of heaping too much praise on Jesus Medina given what little we saw of him in the preseason. However, he’s looking to be a truly creative force in NYCFC’s attack. He doesn’t have the one-on-one ability that Jack Harrison brought to the table, but his vision and positioning have been spectacular, and the young Paraguayan has done as much as any starter on the team to finish plays.
The Best Offense…: NYCFC is proving to once again have a strong defense in the early part of the season. Allowing only one goal through three matches – while starting three different back lines – speaks to the strength of the defense. Sean Johnson has also continued his role as a leader at the back, and Alex Ring deserves as much praise as anyone for being the first line of defense.
Injury Bug: Tinnerholm did take a hard fall into the sod last week, but played the rest of the match just fine. His play going forward will be immensely important, so resting him as a precaution is the right move. The same goes for Villa, who is obviously the single most important player to this team. In each case, it’s good to see NYCFC can get it done without them. Ronald Matarrita – getting his third run-on of the year (and once again in an attacking position) – found himself taken off in under five minutes after taking a hard foul. The visibly-upset Matarrita slowly walked off the field with tears in his eyes. Ben Sweat has been nothing short of brilliant as the starter in 2018, but Matarrita is still a strong asset to this team. One hopes “injury prone” does not begin to haunt the young Costa Rican.
Use Your Head: Speaking of injuries – Maxime Chanot was involved in a massive head-to-head collision with Orlando defender Jonathan Spector. One always has to be wary of these collisions, and Jason Kreis reported that Spector – who came off at the half after feeling dizzy – will likely have to go through the league’s concussion problem. These things happen, but the health of these players should be the top concern. Chanot is a competitor, but head injuries are not to be taken lightly.
Thankfully, Vieira has some shiny, new depth pieces to show off.
NYCFC will travel to Gillette Stadium to play New England Revolution next Saturday, March 24th at 1:30pm