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Thursday Morning Centerback: New York City routs New England, 2-0

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The Bronx Blues won stylishly, decisively -- all the hallmarks that you'd expect from a flagship team in America's biggest city.

Rumble in the Bronx
Rumble in the Bronx
Elsa/Getty Images

Let's get one thing clear from the start: this wasn't the stem-to-stern victory that Jason Kreis is looking for. Far from it. There were too many shaky moments in the first half, and New York City were lucky not to be trailing at half time.

But that second half. Oh, man, thaLet's get one thing clear from the start: this wasn't the stem-to-stern victory that Jason Kreis is looking for. Far from it. There were too many shaky moments in the first half, and New York City were lucky not to be trailing at half time.

But that second half. Oh, man, that second half.

That's the kind of fluency that New York City fans were looking for. It helped, obviously, that seconds after Khiry Shelton came on, he forced veteran Revs centerback Jose Gonçalves into a red-card-worthy foul, which sent fans of other New York-area teams int paroxysms of outrage.

Beyond that, though, it was the most complete performance we've seen from the team yet. The 43,507 fans in attendance — virtually all of whom were wearing some sort of team clothing, whether a scarf, a jersey, or a hat — saluted that performance, and compelled the team ever higher.

It was fitting, then, that team captain David Villa was at the heart of it. Villa — who was named the league's player of the week yesterday, one suspects not for the last time — was, if not a conductor, then certainly a concertmaster. It was his goal in the 19th minute that broke open the deadlock. It was a goal deceptively glorious in its simplicity. We'll get to it presently.

First, here's how NYC lined up:

One thing becomes clear: Where's Ballouchy? Sebastian Velasquez took his place in the lineup this week. Aside from that, everything was unchanged. That substitution, though, made a big difference. Where Ballouchy was anonymous, either passing the ball horizontally or backwards, Seba did the complete opposite. Look at how vertical his distribution is.

seba opta nycne 031515

That matters, because it had an impact on how the other midfielders played, including Mix Diskerud. Especially Mix. Here's Mix's passing chart from this week.

mix opta nycne 031515

Compare it to last week.

mix opta nycorl 030815

Look at how horizontally Mix was distributing the ball against Orlando, as opposed to how vertically he was circulating it against New England. It's not even close. Just so we can see, here's Mehdi Ballouchy's distribution:

ballouchy passing chart ORL 3815

That matters. Why? Because it meant David Villa was far more of a factor than he was the previous week. Like Thierry Henry when he played for the Red Bulls, Villa's involvement is fundamental to the Sky Blues success or failure. How crucial? Look at his goal.

That's not the kind of chance that Villa had against Orlando. Against New England, Villa had several opportunities like that. Had Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth not come up huge (literally — he had to stretch on several saves) time and again, Villa could've had a hat trick on the day. For instance, check out this outstanding save, late in the second half, to deny Villa a certain goal.

Villa didn't limit himself to scoring, however. He was instrumental in setting up New York City's second goal. Watch how he stretches the defense here, holds up the ball, and serves up a meatball for Patrick Mullins to feast on.

That brings me to another point. Adam Nemec was Villa's strike partner again. Unlike the team's first game, Nemec was a lot more lively, and his work rate was a lot more on point. Despite that, Nemec was still...ineffective in front of goal. Some of that, obviously, comes down to Shuttleworth's outstanding play. But for all that, Nemec was still wasteful in front of goal. Now, it's just two games. Maybe Nemec isn't the Slovakian Fernando Torres, and there's a lot to be said for having a big bruiser up top complementing Villa.

Nemec is all that. He's a great aerial target, he held up the ball a lot better against New England, and his performance overall was generally better throughout. Let's not discount any of that.

Here's the thing: New York City already have players who can fulfill those roles, and they can score as well. I already spotlighted Mullins' goal, but the other guy I'm thinking about is Khiry Shelton. If you didn't know already, Shelton's fast becoming beloved among New York City fans the way that Shane Spencer and Scott Brosius were amongst Yankee fans. Between the preseason and these first two games, Shelton's fast developing a reputation as a late-game wonder worker.

On Sunday, Shelton entered the game for a tiring Velasquez. Seconds after that, this is what happened.

Bye, Jose.

Let's talk about that moment, briefly. It's clear that there's contact. You've got two big players, running at speed after the ball. Shelton is, essentially, free on goal; Gonçalves is doing everything in his power to recover, and to, if not prevent a goal, at least impede Shelton from going one-on-one with Shuttleworth.

Gonçalves got the red because it was a "denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity" (DOGSO). The guy whose tweet I quoted above is not only saying that it wasn't a red; he's saying that it wasn't a foul, full stop.

Like I said, it's clear there's contact. But you don't have to just go off the video -- a luxury Geiger, the referee, didn't have, by the way. I spoke with both players after the game. Shelton said there was contact; more to the point, so did Gonçalves. He didn't think it rose to the level of a foul, let alone a red card; but he copped to the contact.

What's the point, here? Look: MLS is clearly transitioning as it seeks to become a "league of choice" and all that. Part of that is creating an environment where creative players (read: strikers, attacking mids, you name it) have the freedom to do just that: create and score goals, without living in fear that they're going to get mugged by the defense.

Over the past few years, MLS got a bad rap for being a league in which "persistent infringement" was something officials ignored. Persistent infringement is when a player repeatedly commits fouls or certain other infringements. Going into 2015, referees and the league made it clear that they'd be cracking down on that.

Let's be brutally honest: you want to know why there's so much "diving" in soccer? Blame persistent infringement. It happens because defenders routinely foul offensive players, whether it's to break up the flow of play, prevent goals, or what have you. Those fouls don't get called; if they do, they don't result in a yellow card.

Either way, they result in a much uglier, less "quality" game. That's precisely what MLS has been accused of in the past. That's what they're trying to change.

If you're complaining about the "unimaginably soft" cards, guess what: you're not helping. That's not to say that there won't be occasions where soft yellows or reds will be given. Of course there will be, and Geiger will probably be at the center of many of those controversies.

But if you're arguing that you'd rather see David Horst mug Sebastian Giovinco because it's a "man's game" and soccer is a contact sport and what not, I don't grant the premise of your argument. No one wants to go see Adaílton take out Bryan Róchez. That's not what the sport is about.

There were fouls galore on Sunday; in fact, New York City vastly out-fouled New England, 17-10. But Gonçalves got busted for his, and he deserved to be.

That was a back-breaker. Sometimes, it becomes paradoxically easier for teams to defend after going a man down. Not here. The fight seemed to seep out of the Revs, and it was only because of Shuttleworth that the game didn't get out of hand. New York City had been pretty firmly in front for most of the second half; after that red, they straight dominated the run of play.

How dominant? Check out Villa's assist again, especially towards the end:

He's heel-clicking. Anyway, this is the kind of show New York City fans expected. They were appreciative.

Anyway, back to the question at hand. Adam Nemec, for right now, is going to be Villa's partner. But for how much longer? I can see Kreis keeping Shelton as a game-changing sub. But Mullins made a strong bid to start in Sunday's game. Tony Taylor had a fantastic preseason, lest The Bronx Blues won stylishly, decisively -- all the hallmarks that you'd expect from a flagship team in America's biggest city. we forget.

Nemec's going to have to start scoring some goals. No one's expecting him to lead the scoring stats; that's Villa's thing. But scoring has the beneficial side effect of keeping defenses honest. If MLS defenses realize that the big guy can't score, that means they can focus on Villa. And that, in turn, leaves New York City high and dry once more.

Next up for the Bronx Blues: Colorado Rapids, at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO. That's going to prove a challenge for the team. I speak, of course, of the height; oxygen is going to be at a premium, so the team will have to conserve its energy. Colorado is also coming off a bye week, so they've had an extra week to train and study New York City. Pablo Mastroeni's side is young, but well-drilled and organized, so they'll provide a stout challenge for the Bronx Blues.