Homecomings can be sweet.
Unfortunately for Jason Kreis and Chris Wingert, tonight's return to the confines they called home was anything but. Coming off a furious comeback draw against the Chicago Fire last Friday, I expected the Blues to channel that energy and serve up a competitive game against Real Salt Lake. For the first 20 minutes, they did that. They tested goalkeeper Nick Rimando on multiple occasions. The best chance was this beauty by Mix Diskerud, 20 minutes in:
Through this now 10-game losing streak, mental mistakes have absolutely destroyed New York City. Even as they tested the RSL defense, the Blues were letting Real's midfield and forwards surge forward. Twice in the first 20 minutes, Saunders had to bail out his back line. This season, New York City have given up seven goals in the first 30 minutes of games.
Make that eight. David Villa tries to do something special, but can't. Real's midfield pounces on the ball, works it forward. Defender Shay Facey, who's been some distance short of adequate in his appearances, gets caught out. That's all it takes for midfielder John Stertzer to score his first career goal. Facey may be at fault there, but let's be real: this isn't just one player. This is a systemic failure. This keeps happening over, and over, and over.
At some point, the players have to take ownership of what's going on on the field. Twelve games in, that hasn't happened. When I watch New York City play, what's become glaringly obvious to me is that they lack an on-field leader. There's no one on this roster who demonstrates the capacity to gather the team when they give up a goal and rally them to a comeback. There's no one on this team who can infuse belief into their fellow players.
New York City plays with the hope of victory, rather than with the expectation of it.
So, when they inevitably make a mistake — because all teams make them — or when they fall behind — because all teams lose — New York City sags, sighs, and slumps. And the result is yet another loss.
But what about Frank Lampard? He's not that kind of player, nor has he ever been that kind of player. Even though Lampard is a Chelsea legend, and their all-time leading scorer, Chelsea's captain has been John Terry. Terry, not Lampard, is the guy who best embodies Chelsea's grim determination to win. Right now, I have no idea whom New York City can sign in the summer to fill that role. I'm not even sure someone like that is available.
That attitude — hoping for victory, instead of seizing it — was all too obvious with Real's second goal.
You see New York City giving RSL way too much space on the ball, as opposed to pressuring them. Luke Mulholland is free to caper down the sideline and cross the ball beautifully to Alvaro Saborio. Saborio splits defenders Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert before scoring on a snap-down header to give Real a 2-0 lead.
And that's how it ended. At times, as the game drew to a close, RSL was straight up toying with New York City. The Blues never looked likely to score a goal, let alone two or three. They had their chances; Andrew Jacobson came painfully close, off beautiful service by Villa. But that was the outlier.
New York City's winless streak is now ten games. That's the ninth-longest in MLS history. They'll be playing the Houston Dynamo next Sunday at Yankee Stadium, and looking to make the right kind of history, as opposed to more of the wrong kind.