Sunday’s 2-0 loss in Toronto was maddening for reasons beyond simply the scoreline:
Not only did NYCFC not play the kind of soccer that earned them a first-round bye and the second seed in the Eastern Conference— they didn’t even try to.
Let’s face it, Patrick Vieira wasn’t playing to win; he was playing not to lose.
The gaffer shelved Frank Lampard for a whole hour. Tommy McNamara didn’t see the field at all. Without any creative support, David Villa was on an island, and never managed to play his way into the game. The midfield trio of Andoni Iraola, Federico Bravo, and Mikey Lopez provided the tough, physical play you’d expect, but that’s not a winning recipe when you consider everything we’ve learned about NYCFC this year.
The Bronx Blues’ strategy in the regular season was simple enough to grasp: maybe our opponents will score three, but we like our chances to score four.
That all flew out the window Sunday, and the failure was, in essence, by design. Vieira seemed to have been playing for a 0-0 draw. But Toronto didn’t bench any designated players. They were playing to win.
We shouldn’t be surprised by the result whatsoever.
Interestingly, a report from Big Apple Soccer suggested that a number of NYCFC players convened after Sunday’s game to vent their frustrations about Vieira’s tactical choices. Khiry Shelton and Frank Lampard went on the record to deny that a players-only meeting ever took place, but that doesn’t vindicate Vieira’s questionable decisions in any way (let’s not forget, as well, that he subbed off David Villa when the game was still 0-0).
The good news? There’s never a better time for balls-the-wall attacking play than when you’re returning to the friendly confines of the Bronx down 2-0 on aggregate. The Blues haven’t lost at Yankee Stadium in eight games running. This is a team that punked Colorado, the best defending team in MLS, 5-1. They even did it without the services of Villa.
Sunday is the biggest day in the history of New York City FC. Patrick Vieira knows this as well as you do. My outlook is this: trust the man. His inventiveness (a back five, moving a veteran fullback to defensive midfield, sliding Andrea Pirlo forward) has been a source of strength for this team. If the World Cup champ has a little more magic up his sleeve — miracles can and do happen! — we’ll be singing a different kind of tune on the streets of River Avenue Sunday night.