Last night's 1-0 loss to New England is precisely the kind of game that New York City can't afford to lose if they want to make the playoffs. At the same time, it was difficult to get too worked up about the loss. Just around the corner — as soon as next Sunday — lies a different team. One with Andrea Pirlo at its heart, and perhaps Frank Lampard, feeding lovely through balls to David Villa.
This version, though, isn't bad. It's easy to forget this in the fog of defeat, but last night's loss is just the second in eight matches. It broke a three-game winning streak. New York City controlled possession for most of the game, and had a fair number of chances to either tie or take the lead. This wasn't a blowout loss.
In fact, this was the difference, in the 12th minute.
The play started with New England defender Jeremy Hall passing to Diego Fagundez. Fagundez then had some lovely 1-2 passing with Daigo Kobayashi, before threading a pass to Lee Nguyen on the left. Nguyen cut inside to his right and powered a low shot into the far corner of New York City's goal past Josh Saunders.
Before that, New York City had played some bright, attacking soccer. They had three great chances to score in the first 10 minutes, but failed to convert any of them. As the half wore on, though, New York City faded. The score remained 1-0 at halftime, though, with everything to play for.
The second half started out well for New York City. Twice in the first five minutes of the half, New York City had solid chances to score. David Villa delivered a solid free kick into the Revolution's penalty area in the 46th minute, but backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton ably punched it away. Then in the 50th minute, Villa received an outstanding outlet pass from Tommy McNamara, only to have Knighton push away his cross.
A Blues goal seemed a matter of when, not if. Then in the 55th minute, disaster struck. Midfielder Ned Grabavoy went in on a tackle against Daigo Kobayashi with studs showing.
Referee Soren Stoica wasted no time in giving Grabavoy a straight red card, meaning he'll miss the next game. It's unclear whether New York City will appeal the card. With 10 men, New York City was reduced to fighting desperately to stay in the game. Time and again, the defence bent, but didn't break.
But for all of the defensive heroics, New York City was unable to draw even. The game finished, and New England broke its five-game losing streak.
Despite the loss, New York City remains just three points outside the playoffs, with 21 points on a 5-9-6 record. With 14 games left in the regular season, New York City will next take on fellow expansion club Orlando City next Sunday at 2:30 PM in Yankee Stadium. Orlando City is on 24 points, and a win at home would enable them to draw level on points with them, keeping the playoffs as a realistic possibility.