Not a single ray of sunshine graced the Etihad Pitch at Yankee Stadium today, but that doesn’t mean fans are going home unhappy. After going down 1-0 in the first half, New York City FC came out firing in the second to steal three points on the back of a David Villa brace. Torrential rain turned the pitch into something in between a slip-and-slide and a war zone and I wasn’t even sure the game would carry on. Thankfully, the press box was nice and dry and looking past the field conditions, the match was one of the best of the season. New York City was without team assist leader Maxi Moralez after the diminutive midfielder picked up an injury during the midweek loss to New York Red Bulls in the US Open Cup. They were missing Ronald Matarrita and Khiry Shelton as well, but Maxime Chanot, Pirlo, and the young Yangel Herrera all were available. The starting XI was generally standard – in the absence of Moralez, Jack Harrison slid into the central midfield with Thomas McNamara and Rodney Wallace out wide.
Rain started about an hour before kickoff, and by the time the first half started, puddles had begun to form. Right from the beginning, we had an open game on our hands. There were chances at both ends, crosses that went unanswered by inches, but field conditions made it a messy affair. A ball stopping in a puddle broke up attacks just about as often as a defender did – both Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey saw promising attacks snuffed out by a puddle on the top of the NYCFC 18 yard box. New York had the first four corners of the match, but a quick 1-2 between Dempsey and Cristian Roldan saw the visitors take a 1-0 lead after a tidy finish by the latter hit the bottom corner.
New York didn’t let their heads drop, however. Just before the break, captain David Villa hit the crossbar with a curling effort. Perhaps a positive spark was exactly what was needed, because the home side came out flying in the second half and made it their own. In the 51st minute, Villa won and dispatched the penalty that saw the boys in blue go level. It was Villa’s 50th MLS goal – not a bad way to hit a milestone. Not only did this set Yankee Stadium alight, but it was just the start. New York City only upped the pressure from there, putting in cross after cross, chance after chance – helped by Jack Harrison putting on a stellar performance after moving outside to the right wing. To that end, David Villa gave NYCFC the lead on a volley after a tasty back post cross by Harrison. The boys in blue looked dangerous even after taking the lead, but it wasn’t easy from there on out. A solid performance by the back line – most notably Maxime Chanot and midfielder Alexander Ring – secured a nervy three points that showed the true grit and heart of the squad.
During his post-match press conference, an upbeat head coach Patrick Vieira seemed as jovial as ever and even joked about one of the other reporters who had bought a Vieira bobble head at the store. He did not stay long, but he touched upon the play of David Villa, of Jack Harrison, the weather, and an update on Pirlo.
On David Villa:
“I’m not surprised [about how well Villa played] and what he achieved. It is not easy to be the top goal scorer in Spanish history… to succeed in the Champions League… to win the World Cup. The quality was there and is always going to be there. There’s a passion and a love that he has got for the game. In our society we judge people too early, too quickly… David’s case is a positive one for the football club and the younger players in the club and for the fans and for what we want to be. He sets the example for the rest of the players.”
On Jack Harrison:
“This is something Jack needs to continue working on. He has the quality and the vision to make assists, but he needs to improve on decision making around the box. But he is still young, his is still developing, and he is a much better player than he was last year. And he will be a much better player next year. I am very happy with him, like the rest of the players.”
On the weather and field conditions:
“When you look at the weather, when you look at the field… against one of the best teams in the league we went one-nil down. To come back and win that game took a lot of team spirit and quality… So yes I’m going to be proud of the players, especially the way we played in the first half. We showed character, our game plan was good, and I think it is not easy to play under these circumstances… I was worried on the bench, to be honest, but as the game went on I started feeling more comfortable”
On Andrea Pirlo:
“There is no ‘situation’ with Andrea. Andrea is a part of this team, and I’m really happy that he is fit again because game after game I can change players, I can change systems. And when I have all the players ready, I am happy. So I am glad he’s back. And I can’t wait to have Khiry [Shelton] back, and Maxi [Moralez] back, because it is good for a coach to have all players available to make the best decision to allow the team to win football matches.”
I’ll be back up in the booth covering New York City FC on June 29th when the boys in blue take on Minnesota United at Yankee Stadium. For more on NYCFC, keep your eye on the line and stay with Offside Football.