Let's be blunt: this was New York City's best game of the season. It wasn't a complete performance, but it was the closest they've come to one. It was fluid, it was composed, it was thorough. And for the first time, the Blues have won back-to-back games. As New York City prepares to grapple with its two local rivals — the Cosmos in the Open Cup, then the Red Bulls the following week — it looks like the team is finally gelling into shape.
New York City came flying out of the gates, and never stopped in the first half. Time and time again, they pressured the Montreal Impact, stifling every attack before the Quebecers could cross midfield. The pressure forced Montreal to seek relief through long balls over the top; long balls that New York City's backline, one of the team's weak spots, dealt with aplomb. New York City's given up a league-leading nine goals in the first 30 minutes of matches; but for the second straight game, the defense held fast.
As it turned out, New York City struck first. With a beautiful, flowing build up, no less.
Check that out. Look at how Tommy McNamara sets up Patrick Mullins, who then slips the ball to Mehdi Ballouchy. Ballouchy, who was then besieged by Montrealers, manages to pass to Villa — who's wide open because Ballouchy is surrounded. Just like that, New York City take a wholly-deserved 1-0 lead. That kind of team play and fluidity simply hasn't been present for the Blues — until now. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's come with Tommy McNamara in the starting lineup, either. I've long argued that he provides New York City with a degree of creativity combined work rate that no other midfielder on the squad possesses. We haven't seen it because he's spent so much time recovering from a serious knee injury.
I asked him after the game how his injury affected his play. It turns out that, in his long layoff from injury, McNamara combined that creativity with deep research into how MLS teams play — i.e., watching lots and lots of game tape.
The team nearly doubled its lead early in the second half. In the 46th minute, Villa nearly got his brace, only to be denied by a diving Evan Bush. Then five minutes later, Patrick Mullins just missed scoring off a beautiful pass by defender RJ Allen. But as the second half wore on, New York City began to ease off the pressure, letting Montreal back into the game. The Impact began making their presence felt in New York City's half of the field.
That's where subs come in. Kreis first went to Mix Diskerud, who came on for Ballouchy. Ten minutes later, Kwadwo Poku subbed in for Mullins. Mix, fresh off scoring against defending World Cup holders Germany, was flying high. He was flying even higher after this beauty of a setup by Poku.
That sequence of play by Poku is why so many people want him playing more. He doesn't just dispossess the Impact defender; he wrangles the ball from him, then holds off defenders until he spots a massively wide-open Diskerud. All Diskerud has to do is take a decent shot; that's all he does.
With the game drawing to a close, the Impact scored. In these types of situations, New York City's typically bunkered up, trying to hold off the opponent. Not this time. The Blues took advantage of Montreal's frantic search for an equalizer. In stoppage time, David Villa found himself with all the time in the world. He found an even more open Poku, who fired home to seal the win — and scored his first career MLS goal.
As Jason Kreis mentioned in post-game remarks, tonight's performance provided a glimpse into how he wants New York City to play. It's not a moment too soon, either. Waiting for New York City are the NASL spring champions — the New York Cosmos. They are arguably the best team in the area right now — nine games unbeaten, and relishing a chance to knock off New York City. That game — on Wednesday — won't be televised, but it'll likely be streamed.
Then it's Toronto at BMO Field on Saturday, before taking on the New York Red Bulls in a hotly-anticipated rematch on Sunday, June 28th.