New York City were thisclose to winning at home for the first time this year.
Then Montréal's Dominic Oduro put a damper on the night. In the 91st minute, the forward took advantage of wretched defending by the Blues to tally the equalizer. Instead of celebrating victory for the first time in nearly two months, NYCFC are now winless in their last seven games, and losers of their last three.
Unlike Saturday's lacklustre loss to the Philadelphia Union, tonight's draw saw an improved New York City on the field; but that's small comfort, given how the game ended. Patrick Vieira made a few changes to his lineup from Saturday's. Andrea Pirlo returned to the midfield; Tommy McNamara played on the left wing; and hometown defender RJ Allen got his first start of the year.
A taut, tense first half saw both teams locked in a stalemate, with chances few and far between. New York City captain David Villa probably had the best offensive highlight of a dour half -- a barnstorming run that that saw him slough off three tackles, before finally settling for a corner.
The second half, however, was markedly different. In the 47th minute, the Blues got their first crack at scoring. Villa sailed a pass over to Tommy McNamara. McNamara, playing on the wing, juggled thrice before testing Impact keeper Evan Bush, who parried away for a corner.
Four minutes later, right back RJ Allen put the Blues in front.
He began the scoring sequence with a delivery to winger Khiry Shelton. Shelton crossed to McNamara, who then craftily back tapped to the onrushing Allen, who boldly kept running into the box. Allen's shot to the far post couldn't be saved by Bush. It was Allen's first professional goal.
However, it wouldn't prove enough. The Blues kept striving for an insurance goal, pressuring throughout the second half. Villa - as ever - came closest. In the 60th minute, he tested Bush three times; twice Bush blocked his shots, before his third attempt nestled harmlessly on top of Montréal's goal. In the 89th minute, Villa had one final opportunity to score via a free kick, but it was blocked by the Impact wall.
Two minutes later, Oduro salvaged the draw for Montréal, with a low header off a cross by the legendary Didier Drogba.
The result was frustrating for Blues manager Vieira.
"I think tonight we did quite well. The players we have are strong and until the last free quick we did quite well," said the manager in his post-game remarks. "In the end it was a lack of organization and concentration for the 95 minutes and of course a goal like that is frustrating. We deserved to win that game."
"I feel sorry for the players because they worked so hard and so well and they deserve more than what they are getting at the moment," the manager added. "We are in a period where everything is going against us, but we are going to stick together and fight together and turn it around."
Next up for the Blues: yet another chance to break their home drought. They play the Vancouver Whitecaps at 4 p.m.
NYCFC's offense is stagnant. It's not just that they've only scored three times in their last four games. It's that they remain utterly dependent on David Villa for scoring. No one else scores with anything nearing consistency. It's even worse than that, though. Not only is Villa the Blues' leading scorer, he's also -- by far -- their best creator.
As improved as Pirlo has been this season from last, he's not a "number 10" - the kind of player who can unlock an defense with a cutting pass and set up someone like Villa -- or, you know, Shelton/Taylor/Mendoza/insert-random-player-here -- to score. It beggars the imagination, but New York City have never had that kind of player. Oh, and before you mention the All-Time Worst DP (aka Frank Lampard)? He's not that player, either. He never has been, and at this point, any one in the supporter's section is far more likely to see playing time than the Blues' $6 Million Dumpster Pyre.
Could New York City use another scorer? Sure. But I think they have that scoring punch already on the roster. What they really need is an actual number 10 -- a Kevin de Bruyne, a Marek Hamsik, a Couthinho. At this point, it's imperative for New York City's front office to do everything in their power to land someone like that. They need to rip up Lampard's contract up post haste, and use his DP slot on a number 10. Do that, and I'm certain that the Blues' scoring woes essentially go away.
New York City isn't likely to make the playoffs. Wait, what? Didn't the season just start? Yes. And just like last year, NYCFC has followed up their first victory with an extended winless streak. Last year, eleven games went before the Blues tasted victory again. This year, we're at seven - and counting. But it gets worse.
Since 2009, only one expansion team - the Seattle Sounders - made the playoffs in their inaugural season. Given that that making the playoffs is the minimum expected of any NYCFC coach, and CFG certainly expected that of Jason Kreis, I went back and looked at the early seasons since then. Guess what?
No team with fewer than six points from their first five home games has made the playoffs. Period.
New York City stand at three points from their first five home games. Three.
It's a truism in MLS that, in order to succeed, you have to hold serve at home, because it's tough as hell to win on the road. Hell, it's not just MLS; it's any team sport, but it's really true in MLS. And let's dispense with the notion that the size of the field at Yankee Stadium makes it uniquely difficult for New York City to get in rhythm. That's bullhockey.
The 2012 Supporters' Shield winning San Jose Earthquakes played on a field the same size; hell, they did so all the way up until last season, and they never had trouble winning at home. In fact, they were notorious for pulling games out late. And they weren't the only ones, either. The Columbus Crew used to play at Ohio Stadium, home to Ohio State. Same size field as Yankee Stadium. I could go on. I won't.
Could the Blues' make the playoffs? Sure. It's a long season. But we're already more than a fourth of the way into it. At this point, the odds are exceedingly high that they won't, unless things change drastically. And tonight, that doesn't look likely at all.