For the first time, New York City FC sits atop the Eastern Conference. Needless to say, after a seven-game winless streak that saw the Blues drop way too many points at home, it's surreal to write those words, but there it is. First place.
More importantly, the Blues won their third straight game. They withstood ferocious pressure from the Portland Timbers throughout, giving up possession by a 61-39 margin, and getting outshot 24-12. At one point, Portland had outshot the Blues by a 15-4 margin. The Blues didn't earn their first corner of the match until the 57th minute.
So how did they win? It came down to an extraordinary effort by the defense -- particularly by Bronx native Jason Hernandez -- and two moments of brilliance by defender RJ Allen and midfielder Tommy McNamara.
Manager Patrick Vieira made one change in his first-choice lineup. Mikey Lopez dropped down to defensive midfielder, replacing the suspended Federico Bravo. Mix Diskerud replaced Lopez on the right.
New York City was pressured by the Timbers from the start of the game. Manager Patrick Vieira is bound and determined to have New York City build play from the back, starting with goalkeeper Josh Saunders. NYC's MLS opponents have keyed on that; their uniform response has been to use a high pressing line to force turnovers by the Blues' defense.
That nearly paid off for the Timbers on multiple occasions. The problem, though, with using a high line is that if you can break the pressure, you can find yourself with lots of space to make things happen.
That's precisely what happened in the 12th minute. Watch Allen skip over his marker. Once he's done that, he's got time and space to deliver an absolutely world-class pass to David Villa's feet. All Villa has to do - besides hold off two Timbers' defenders, of course - is strike home. He does.
Suddenly, against the run of play, New York City led 1-0.
The tally held up against Portland's merciless pressure, through no small effort by Jason Hernandez. Time and again the veteran center back threw himself at Portland's forays, foiling them and frustrating them.
But the pressure would tell, eventually. In the 55th minute, Portland finally took advantage of a New York City turnover on the edge of their penalty area. Forward Fanendo Adi got the delivery from Darlington Nagbe, then rather than pass off, decided to shoot. Saunders had performed superlatively in the opening stages of the second half, in contrast to his shakiness in the first half, but he couldn't save everything.
Providence Park exploded. It looked, briefly, as though the Timbers would run riot. But New York City, as they have so often this year, bent but didn't break. Eventually, Portland's pressure on New York City's defense slackened. The Blues started to find space. In the 65th minute, out of seemingly nowhere, it came.
Andrea Pirlo found himself with the ball. He dished it to a lurking Tommy McNamara, who calmly looped a shot from distance into the upper corner of Portland's goal.
That goal was the game-winner. Portland gamely tried to raise themselves yet again, but a howling Providence Park was struck dumb; immediately after Tommy Mac's goal, the only sound ringing out were the New York City fans chanting his name. Nought was heard but them.
Still, Vieira took no chances. In the 74th minute, he withdrew Mix Diskerud for Mehdi Ballouchy's fresh legs, to give the Blues an outlet for Portland's pressure. In the 84th, McNamara made way for right back Ethan White, and as stoppage time loomed, Andoni Iraola came in for Andrea Pirlo.
New York City had a couple of golden chances to ice the game, but they proved unneeded. Portland's will had been broken. As the seconds ticked away, Timbers fans expressed their displeasure with their players' deliberation in seeking an equalizer.
Next up for New York City: The Blues get on a plane to Toronto tomorrow. They play Toronto FC on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.
Hernandez was brilliant; Brillant wasn't. Patrick Vieira has a clear first-choice backline. It features Rónald Matarrita at left back, RJ Allen on the right, and Jason Hernandez and Frederic Brillant in the middle. I think it's safe to say that Brillant is the weak link there. It's not readily obvious because Hernandez usually steps up and covers for him. It was today. Hernandez was otherworldly in defense today, but part of that was because Brillant was often lost in transition.
Still, I don't think NYC get a replacement in the summer transfer window. There's too many other needs to address. On top of that, they've tried to address that need the last two windows - remember Jefferson Mena? It's far more likely that Brillant and Mena platoon at center back, or that Diego Martinez becomes an option there.
Shelton comes down to earth. Winger Khiry Shelton had an excellent game against DC last Sunday. Tonight's game was a homecoming for him; he starred at Oregon State. Despite that, he was largely anonymous tonight. There were times, late in the game, when instead of using his speed to exploit space left behind by Portland's high line, he slowed down and tried instead to take on his defenders. These forays invariably ended with him getting dispossessed.
Vieira remains high on Shelton, plus he's an aerial threat, so he's your starter on the right wing for the time being. But it'd be nice if Shelton could start developing the kind of understanding on the field with David Villa that Tommy McNamara has.
Enter the Lampard. Vieira made news before the game when he revealed that Frank Lampard had trained with the team this morning, and that pending training on Tuesday, could play against Toronto on Wednesday or the Red Bulls on Saturday. It would be Lampard's first game this season.