Three matches. Eight days. Tonight, New York City close out one of the more exhausting parts of their schedule against the San Jose Earthquakes, at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m PT. The Blue Pigeons come into tonight's clash fresh off a badly-needed victory against Toronto FC.
The 2-0 win was just the team's second win in its last eight games. More importantly, though, it was a hard-won victory where New York City was firmly on the front foot throughout; it also marked the third win in the last five home games. Frank Lampard scored his first goal for the Blue Pigeons in the 20th minute; Patrick Mullins clinched the win in the 77th minute. It was New York City's first shutout since June 20th.
Best of all, the Blue Pigeons finally put together a creditable defensive performance. That effort got richly saluted by goalkeeper Josh Saunders and head coach Jason Kreis.
"I thought they did a really good job," the veteran goalkeeper said. "When they were making plays with slide tackles and blocking shots, they were high-fiving each other, and giving each other pats on the back. There was lots of communication."
"That’s the biggest thing apart from the three points," Kreis said. "To get a shutout was critical for us against a team that is very good in the attacking half of the field. AJ put in a tremendous shift for us. He was critical in a lot of tackles and stealing of passes. I thought he was fantastic at the end of the night. I was really pleased with the defensive commitment of the guys, and obviously pleased that Josh was there at the end of the day to make some really great saves."
Where Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco was lethal the last time the teams met, he was utterly inconsequential this time around. New York City's back four of Chris Wingert, Jason Hernandez, Shay Facey, and RJ Allen, who led the team with six tackles, shut Giovinco and Jozy Altidore down. Andrew Jacobson, who's done yeoman work as a defensive midfielder all season long, contributed four tackles of his own.
With the win, New York City moved to 31 points on the season (8-14-7). They are one point ahead of the Philadelphia Union (8-15-6; 30 points), and trail Orlando City (8-13-8; 32 points) and Impact du Montréal (9-11-6; 33 points) by one and two points, respectively, for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East. The Impact have three games in hand in the chase for the playoffs.
The Blue Pigeons will try to continue that fine defensive work against the Earthquakes. The Quakes limp into tonight's matchup against New York City. The Quakes completed a four-game homestand where they took five of a possible 12 points, going 1-1-2. That follows a season-high four-match win streak.
On Wednesday, San Jose (11-11-7; 40 points) let a lead slip away to Montréal, who were down a man. The game finished 1-1, and means that the Quakes sit in seventh place in a brutally competitive Western Conference playoff race. It doesn't get easier for San Jose, either; they close the season out against Real Salt Lake, Vancouver, Sporting KC, and FC Dallas.
Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear, who's no stranger to a ferocious playoff clinching run, was philosophical after the game.
"You just have to see how guys are feeling physically, and then just trust in the guys that we'll get the job done. There's really nothing more I can tell you," said Kinnear. "I didn't go in there and throw anything or point fingers. My point was, ‘Hey we all have to want this together in a real bad way, and let's get ready for Saturday.’ At 1-0 and a red card, should we have killed the game off? I think probably everyone in this room would say yes, you probably should have. It didn't happen. The turnaround is too quick for us to look back and go, ‘Well, we should have done this.’"
Forward Chris Wondolowski, as ever, leads the club with 14 goals, while Matias Perez Garcia has a team-high seven assists. Goalkeeper David Bingham ranks second in MLS with 95 saves, trailing only Saunders, who has 104. Wondolowski is on a bit of a scoring tear. His goal against the Impact was his 14th of the season, his second in three matches, and his fifth over the last six league contests dating back to Aug. 19. Wondolowski has matched his goals total of a year ago; he has scored 14 goals or more in five of his last six seasons.
HOW THEY'LL LINE UP TONIGHT
The biggest issue with playing so many games in such a short span is squad rotation. We saw Ned Grabavoy start on Wednesday, and RJ Allen make his first appearance in a long while. Both players acquitted themselves well against Toronto. That said, I think we're more likely to see Tommy McNamara line up on the left, rather than Grabavoy, as he provides a bit more offense for the Blue Pigeons.
I don't think we'll see Villa start this game, which is why I've got Mullins starting. We may see him in the second half, particularly if New York City is pushing for the win. Poku will likely be coming off the bench again.
For New York City, this is the healthiest the team has been in quite a long time. Moreover, their biggest missing piece could likely be on the bench. Only four players are out: Connor Brandt (sports hernia surgery), Andoni Iraola (gastrocnemius strain), George John (knee surgery), and Tony Taylor (knee surgery). Meanwhile, David Villa (hamstring) is questionable.
San Jose, on the other hand, is missing a few key contributors. Steven Lenhart (right knee arthroscopy), Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (left foot), and Victor Bernardez (right hamstring) are all out, as are Innocent (left knee), Paulo Renato (right quad), Khari Stephenson (right calf), and Jordan Stewart (left Achilles).
HOW TO WATCH
New York City FC vs. FC Dallas
Saturday, September 19th, 7:00 pm ET / 4:00 pm PT
Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, NY
Watch on YES / Stream on FOX Sports Go
Listen on 970 AM (English) & 1280 AM (Spanish)
To find the YES Network on your dial, CLICK HERE.
The game will be televised on YES and CSN in Canada. Game time is 7 p.m. Eastern, 4 p.m. Pacific. Yankees played the Mets this afternoon, so unlike last Saturday, there shouldn't be any pre-emptions because of baseball. You can also watch the game on MLS Live if you're outside of the NYC metro area.
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