Three in a row. Last month, New York City was mired deep in a historic winless streak. This month, they're working on a four-game unbeaten streak. A rematch with the New York Red Bulls on Sunday now looms larger than ever.
New York City came into this game bone-weary. On Wednesday, they lost to the New York Cosmos in the most heart-breaking of fashions in the U.S. Open Cup. After 120 minutes of deadlocked soccer, the Blues fell in penalties. Many of the players tonight came to BMO Field dragging tired legs.
For much of the first half, it showed. Toronto, playing some of the best soccer it ever has, tried to dictate the pace of the game. Unfortunately for them, New York City was bound and determined to frustrate and clog up the attacking lanes. They particularly focused on Sebastian Giovinco, repeatedly going after him with all manner of fouls and pokes. The result was that whilst Toronto controlled the ball for the majority of the first half, their offensive engine could never really get going.
With Toronto FC, you can never discount the possibility of disaster. This is one of the most haunted teams in MLS. Disaster came visiting in the 8th minute. Off a corner, the ball comes floating in. Benoit Cheyrou, arms wide open, tries trapping it; only it strikes his arm. The whistle blows. Penalty. Villa stepped up, and buried it.
You can make an argument that that penalty shouldn't have been awarded. But that's what the rule book says; more to the point, if you're going to try to trap the ball with your arms striking a Jesus pose, you can't complain when you get whistled for touching the ball with one of them.
That was the offensive highlight for New York City in the first half. Not that it mattered, because their defense was equal to the task. Time and again, Toronto built up their attack, only to peter out in the final third. Josh Saunders was sparkling, saving three times in quick succession. Meanwhile, Shay Facey and Jason Hernandez were staunch in the middle. Halftime came, and the score was still the same: 1-0, NYC.
The second half picked up from where the first ended. Toronto kept on besieging New York City's goal, but to no avail. Meanwhile, New York City patiently prodded and waited for counter-attacking chances to come their way. That's precisely what happened in the 58th minute. The Blues worked out a beautiful team goal.
That's right: Villa capped it off by scoring his second, for his first brace in a New York City shirt. Watch how that goal develops, though; it's the epitome of unselfish play. McNamara plays the cross to Ballouchy. Ballouchy, instead of going for the glory again — as he did unsuccessfully on Wednesday — lays off the ball to Villa. Villa has nought to do but bury the simple strike. 2-0, New York City.
From there, the game descended into a mire of choppy play and chippy confrontations. The yellow cards came in swift succession as referee Allen Chapman tried to maintain control over the game. Toronto repeatedly tried to make something happen, but quickly ran out of ideas as the Blues simply frustrated every attempt the Reds made at building some kind of offense.
That's how it ended — 2-0 to New York City, their third win in a row. Even better: they are, at least for the moment, no longer in last place, rising to eighth place as I write this, out of the playoff spots merely on goal difference. The team, now flying, takes on the New York Red Bulls next Sunday. This Red Bulls team, unlike the last time they met, is in a funk, having lost tonight 2-0 to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Can New York City capitalize? We shall see.