In what may be the last time we see a New York City team take the field without both scoring impresario Frank Lampard and mad midfield scientist Andrea Pirlo, the shots came early, but they didn't come often.
Upon Ned Grabavoy's studs-up #YOLO challenge and the red card that went along with it, all was essentially lost, as the trailing visitors found themselves struggling just to maintain their losing margin, must less turn the tables.
Well, Hudson River Blue was scribbling notes like mad as the boys in blue trampled the terrible turf at Gillette Stadium. Though most of our scrawlings amount to the conspiratorial screeds of a crazy person -- Andrew Jacobson turns into the Hulk at night! Tommy McNamara is half-hobbit! -- we did come up with three telling observations:
- NYCFC could only create chances on the left side the field, so New England took it away.
Upon the Revs' realization that NYC could only mount a decent effort down the left, the home team clamped down and took it away. By the time Grabavoy was sent off, the trailing Blues were firmly out of contention. The window had shut.
- Andrew Jacobson will continue to have a significant role even after Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo are installed into the team.
As a short-passing team that prefers to keep possession and build up from the back, Jacobson's performances this year have been stunningly consistent, his obvious straight red card in Chicago notwithstanding.
Jacobson isn't a plus-passer per se, but he willingly accepted his outsized role Saturday orchestrating the center of the midfield in Mix Diskerud's absence. He was the only starting NYC midfielder to register a successful dribble (Kwadwo "The Punisher" Poku managed one off the bench despite his penchant for running straight at his opponents).
Jacobson's eleven defensive recoveries led the squad by a wide margin -- none of his teammates managed more than six -- and were a direct cause of the visitors keeping 55% of possession. Yes, that possession came up empty on the scoreboard, but that isn't on Jacobson, whose role is undoubtedly that of a much-needed midfield Attack Dog.
Andrea Pirlo, for all his Jedi-level skills as a playmaker, depends on the kind of steel and cover that box-to-box talents like Jacobson bring. Although McNamara and Poku certainly have the toughness to win the ball from opponents and race forward on the re-direct, no NYC player brings quite the same level of bite as the rugged Jacobson.
I mean, remember when he nearly bit Brek Shea's effing head off? As color commentator Ian Joy remarked on Saturday's YES Network broadcast, AJ's spot on this team is more or less guaranteed.
- Mehdi Ballouchy and Ned Grabavoy are, in every respect, "expansion team players." If they remain first-choice picks for Jason Kreis's XI, New York City has no chance of making the playoffs.
Hudson River Blue has argued since the beginning of the summer that Mehdi Ballouchy's goal-scoring in the early phase of the season would turn out to be a detriment. His skill set is not that of a finisher, despite his swerving edge-of-the-box beauty against Portland. That moment turned out to be the exception that proves the rule.
Remember the two-on-one breakaway in the U.S. Open Cup against the Cosmos? Ballouchy, with the ball at his feet, fancied himself a finisher and chose to fire on goal instead of dumping it off to Patrick Mullins on his right, who had a wide-open net in front off him. The effort was handled with ease by Cosmos keeper Jimmy Maurer. You know how it ended: New York City lost the match on penalties after blowing a dreamy 2-0 advantage.
On Saturday, Ballouchy couldn't even get as close as that. His inability to link up with the accomplished, well-rounded Andoni Iraola in buildup play was an awfully sore point for the visitors. He registered just one shot -- an off-target effort from outside the box, a combination of the impatience and lack of creativity that have long-defined his game -- and did not deliver a single cross the entire match, successful or otherwise.
Grabavoy's case is more complicated. He was New York City's first selection in last fall's expansion draft, and has worn the captain's armband when David Villa has been absent in league play. At Gillette Stadium, however, while his passing percentage was favorable, his overall presence was anything but. Getting forward, Grabavoy produced no key passes (that is, passes leading to a shot on target), no crosses, and no shots.
In his deeper midfield role, let's just give Ned a pass for not producing offensively, just for argument's sake. Unfortunately, his defensive contributions were likewise minimal. He did not intercept the ball even once, nor did he register a single tackle. In the defensive third, he produced just one clearance (Jacobson had three).
Ned is out there because he can run at a relatively unimpressive speed for the full ninety, folks. When Lampard, Pirlo, and Mix are all available, expect his high-leverage minutes, along with the embattled Ballouchy's, to disappear into the Bronx air.