On a bitterly cold Saturday night in the Bronx, Frank Lampard, the prodigal son of New York's newest team, came to Yankee Stadium to watch his future teammates.
David Villa, NYC's captain and unequivocal star man, was not among them, and the final whistle blew with Sporting Kansas City taking all three points.
The Spanish striker aggravated a groin strain in mid-week training and found himself unable to play. Manager Jason Kreis, facing injuries and international call-ups alike, was forced to cobble together a brand-new Starting XI:
Villa, Sebastian Velasquez, and Josh Williams were off the team sheet due to injury. Regular starter Adam Nemec and super-sub Khiry Shelton were away on international duty.
SUBS: Calle >> Taylor (59'), Ballouchy >> Poku (75'), Jacobson >> McNamara (84')
Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is what we call an "expansion team lineup." The first half was marked by the sky blues' inability to organize their buildup, get numbers forward, and create chances on goal.
The scoring opened and closed in the thirteenth minute, as Ike Opara flew in to head home a towering hail-mary throw-in from Sporting captain and U.S. international Matt Besler. Though NYC's man-marking was generally strong throughout the match, Opara boxed out just enough to climb the ladder on this single occasion.
It proved to be the difference in the game.
The logistics of this play cannot be ignored-- it has been widely noted that the pitch at Yankee Stadium, at seventy yards wide, is as narrow as FIFA regulations will permit. Besler noted after the game that Sporting practiced all week on a pitch that was sixty-eight yards wide, and intended to use long throw-ins on the attack all along.
Despite Kansas City's early goal and general domination of possession in the first half, it wasn't all doldrums for the home team.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe, who slid into the right fullback spot in place of the injured Josh Williams and the suspended Shay Facey, acquitted himself nicely, stalking opposing dribblers and snuffing out counterattacks along the back line.
Three more young guns made their NYCFC debuts in the second half-- the sure-footed Tony Taylor, fan favorite Kwadwo Poku, and hair champion Tom McNamara. The infusion of energy was apparent, and the home team found itself pressing forward with efficiency as the second half rolled on.
In minute sixty-seven, it appeared as if New York City might be awarded a penalty after a confusing scrum in the eighteen-yard box. Replays indicated that a deflected ball actually glanced off the arm of NYC midfielder Andrew Jacobson, and linesman Brian Dunn waved it all off amid a chorus of boo-birds in the stands.
Tony Taylor felt right at home in the attacking third, and found himself in the thick of numerous chances in the closing minutes. Jacobson and fullback Jeb Brovsky were content to race forward as well, but each could only manage headed efforts that flew innocuously wide.
Sporting KC were content to keep numbers all the way back to preserve the result, and they simply did not leave enough space for the struggling home team to curate a late goal.
It was the first MLS loss for New York City team with a growing reputation for slow starts and uneven first halves. It was the first win of 2015 for the visitors.
NYCFC will not compete again until April 11th when they visit PPL Park to take on Philadelphia. The upcoming bye week comes at an opportune time for the ailing sky blues, who will hope to have David Villa back in the fold. Sebastian Velasquez and Josh Williams will be targeting a similar return.
And although Frank Lampard might not be in attendance for the next game, if he wants to jump in and join his future team a few months early, nobody is going to stop him at this rate.