In the second of two featured scrimmages at the City Football Academy in Manchester, New York City FC could not recreate the same smashing form they displayed in the first.
Brøndby, who sit fourth in Denmark's top flight and sport former Liverpool man Daniel Agger (inactive today) as captain, were economical at the back and took advantage of their best opportunities to run forward into space, slotting home one more goal than they needed on Sunday afternoon.
Despite their inability to slice one into the net -- and despite once again facing a team already in mid-season form -- New York City boasted competence far beyond the subdued expectations typical of a rising expansion team. Their focus and vision continue to encourage, and a handful of operators are beginning to distinguish themselves on the ball and in isolation.
And it must be said on the occasion of its debut that the slick black away kit really is that fire, and was one of many reasons that the good guys were anything but hard to watch despite coming up short in the score line.
Jason Kreis's starting XI for Sunday:
Getting their first starts were Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Josh Williams, and Adam Nemec, as well as Mix Diskerud, who arrived mid-week following a mini-camp and two friendlies with the U.S. National Team.
Nemec's imposing physicality is a likely wildcard for NYCFC this year juxtaposed with Villa's appealing dynamism, and his corporeal qualities were on proper display. A dribble and cross in toward David Villa hinted at a bit of foot skill, though the two couldn't link up for paydirt.
It wasn't all bread and roses for the black-and-blues in the early going, as Brøndby acquitted themselves with an initiative far surpassing that of St. Mirren. Mix Diskerud was an early victim of their opportunism, bringing back nightmares of Michael Bradley in the 2014 World Cup as he dozed off in the deep midfield and coughed up possession. The Danish side struck swiftly, sweeping the ball ahead to Martin Ornskov, who found the back of the net off Saunders' fingertips in the 26th minute. The visitors kept the heat up in getting forward.
New York City wasn't tentative for long, increasing the pressure in hopes of curating an equalizer before the break. Sebastian Velasquez, whose confidence and economy caught the eye against St. Mirren, continued his solid contributions from the attacking midfield position, but a couple of crosses couldn't find Nemec in the 30th and 31st minutes.
(For a few minutes in the opening period, the streaming video feed cut out, bringing the in-house commentary team's drab, lifeless audio to the fore. It was the worst moment of the first half. Worse than surrendering that goal. Hell, I just felt cold for those moments. If this is the current watermark for NYCFC commentary, the YES Network has naught about which to worry.)
A couple of searing free kicks -- from David Villa predictably, and center back Andres Mendoza, pleasingly -- proved to be NYCFC's best chances at goal in the first forty-five. Mendoza's was the closest of all, whizzing tantalizingly over the crossbar with audacity and aplomb. If this is indeed a workable part of his repertoire, New York City fans ought to set their expectations high for the physical Ecuadorian this year.
Nine changes came at the half, with Jason Kreis opting for width in a substantially different look:
Did ya hear that Kwadwo Poku loves Yaya Toure and is from the same continent as Yaya Toure and kinda has a developing skill set similar to Yaya Toure?
Well, even if you hadn't, these commentators were eager to make the declaration on repeat. Is it in their contract that they must do so? (It's a bit like every time the Celtics play and Tom Heinsohn is seemingly obligated to compare one of Boston's doofy big men to Bill Russell.)
The numerous changes looked more disruptive than refreshing at the start of the second period, as Ferhan Hasani added a second for his side less than three minutes in.
It was the product of a long run in from the left through acres of space, and Hasani broke in from the right to gather the ball and hit a lonely finish; not a single body around him. It was a comeuppance for New York City, who had been unafraid to cheat a high line in search of a home goal.
Fancy footwork typified Jason Kreis's new look for the second half, with Poku, Tony Taylor, and Patrick Mullins nabbing the starring roles. Taylor has proven equally effective in getting on the end of approaching balls or taking on defenders one-on-one. Mullins and the everywhere-at-once Poku were his top facilitators, conducting the orchestra in the link-up.
Worthy of note, goalkeeper trialist Eirik Johansen came on for Saunders in the late going. It's unclear at best if he projects for the senior roster this year -- much will depend on the health of Ryan Meara -- but Kreis clearly wanted the the gigantic Norwegian to log some meaningful minutes.
Neither team backed down straight through to the end. Jeb Brovsky was good value at right back, shuttling the ball forward with keen vision. The final whistle came without the answer NYCFC pursued in good faith, but there were definite positives to divine from the proceedings, especially if we choose to look at this match and the St. Mirren contest as a single document.
Said Jason Kreis in the post-mortem, "The majority of our problems came from ourselves. We gave the ball away in very difficult positions. We're still lacking a little bit of sharpness in the final third to put that goal through." Most importantly, he added, "This is the first negative situation this team has been in, and we'll see how we deal with it."
See it we will. Whether we're ready or not (and whether or not the entire northeastern U.S. is so frozen that even Idina Menzel can't stand it), Major League Soccer returns in a matter of weeks, barring an unmitigated fiasco with the ongoing negotiations over its collective bargaining agreement. We can finally point to this team and say, "THAT, yes, THAT, is NYCFC." And now we know enough about them to believe they're worth an early rise.