After nearly three months of paltry results, New York City FC finally scrubbed away the crud.
Read it, and read it again: NYCFC 2, Philadelphia 1.
Tommy McNamara (and his magical hairdo) struck a sensational second-half cracker to level the score at one apiece before super-sub Patrick Mullins fought off multiple defenders to smash home an 87th minute winner. At the death, the Bronx Blues had nailed down their first-ever road victory.
Before a congregation of 18,517 at PPL Park, New York City didn't just make do without Mix Diskerud, who's off in Europe on U.S. National Team duty-- they dictated. The winning team displayed the better intent, smarter buildup, and, ultimately, bigger eyes for goal.
How did this happen? Well, let's check out the starting XI:
Jason Kreis strongly suggested increased minutes for midfield marauder Kwadwo Poku and "Mullet Master" McNamara while Diskerud was on the other side of the ocean, and the prophecy was fulfilled on Saturday night.
What we had seen only in glimpses was awfully clear from the jump: Poku and McNamara are two of the most fearlessly aggressive talents on this team. Throw them in with Andrew Jacobson's occasional mean streak, and you've got a real fistful of attitude. Of bite.
Unfortunately, the Union bit first just before the referee blew for halftime. Straight off a corner kick from the near side, C.J. Sapong found the ball at his feet:
Hmmm. I'm not crazy, right? The ball trickled down to his boot by way of his ARM, right?
Honestly, after witnessing the downright tragic officiating in this week's Houston Dynamo-New York Red Bulls match, this Sapong "assist" didn't even move the needle for me. Bad form or no, the goal stood and New York City found itself giving up the opening tally. Again.
Coming into Saturday night's affair, NYCFC was a devastating 0-7-2 when surrendering the first goal, but the Blues went into the break with a clear objective: race forward and give them hell.
The hell-giving commenced at the start of the second half. In the 53rd minute, McNamara jockeyed his way into possession in the middle of the field and dumped it back to Poku. T-Mac snuck out ahead toward the box and glanced back at Poku as if to say, "you're going to give it back to me in, like, two seconds, right?"
That happened. Then, another thing happened:
(McNamara also scored in his first-ever start for Chivas USA a year ago, by the way.)
Folks, here they are. Your dynamic duo. How slick are these cats? I can't decide which one is Crockett and which one is Tubbs. No, they're both Crockett. If this was Lethal Weapon, they'd both be Mel Gibson. This is something to celebrate, but I can't help but belabor one question in particular:
Why did we have to wait so long to see this level of inventiveness? This level of playmaking punch?
In any event, winning will help us all forgive and forget. It's the medicine.
As the second half wore on, however, the Bronx Blues' aggressiveness began to blow back on them. McNamara found himself rushing back to bolster the defense, and while he produced a number of key clearances on balls that eluded the back four, the tremendous work rate he flashed alongside Poku -- who had never made an MLS start before Saturday -- rendered the team reasonably gassed.
Philadelphia was determined to take advantage. As the possession shifted to the Union's favor, Sebastian Le Toux and Vincent Nogueira's mouths began to water as their linking play improved. To keep pace, Jason Kreis made two changes in the 58th minute, bringing Mehdi Ballouchy and Ned Grabavoy on for Sebastian Velasquez and Poku.
Le Toux and Zach Pfeffer both fired hard on goal in the latter stages of the match, but New York City MVP Josh Saunders stood tall again and again.
The blues remained aggressive, with David Villa taking on defenders and Jeb Brovsky doing his damned-est on overlapping runs down the right by-line. An embattled, out-of-sorts Adam Nemec gave way to Patrick Mullins in the 78th minute as the visitors searched -- nay, clamored -- for the same kind of late winner that befell them against the Union on April 11th.
In the 87th minute, Brovsky found Mullins on a throw-in, and the young super-sub rammed his way to the edge of the eighteen and fired a shot that nutmegged through the box to slice past Philly keeper Brian Sylvestre and caress the net with the touch of a lover.
Eight minutes later, the final whistle blew and a legion of fans -- in the words of Dickens -- "raised their eyes to the blessed stars."
Following back-to-back letdowns against the Union in April, it was poetic justice for New York City to cap its Philadelphia Triptych with a late winner of its own.
"It’s like a breath of fresh air around here," Jason Kreis said after the game. "We’ll look at it for what it is -- a really important three points. Great to get a win away."
Added Mullet Master McNamara: "We’ve been working extremely hard. We’ve been staying together. It feels good for it to finally come together for us."
- THIS IS MY CORNER: With Chris Wingert back at left fullback for these last two games, his level of comfort is astronomically higher than it was at center back. He repped exclusively on the left in preseason.
- NOT IN THE FACEY: In parallel, Shay Facey's deer-in-the-headlights reputation at right fullback has all but dissolved since moving to the center alongside Jason Hernandez. The Manchester City loanee produced a number of key clearances Saturday.
- ARCH-NEMECSIS: Adam Nemec has got to go. It's clear what he could do with all that size and strength, but he's been completely out of sync with the rest of the team. The nadir came at the beginning of the last half-hour, as Nemec took a swing at the ball in the box as David Villa was clearly running straight for it, leaving them both on the deck in a heap. Those two have been incoherent playing side-by-side.
- RELEGATE YES: The YES Network has a lot of work to do with its soccer coverage. I love Ian Joy as much as the next person, but the telecast was showing a replay when Mullins scored the winner. They missed it! I was watching at a bar, and nobody knew a goal was scored until a few solid moments after the fact. Relegation for you, YES!
Stay tuned next week for another episode of the Mullet & Mullins Show. Until then, tip your wait staff, mind the gap, and GOOOOOOOO USA!