Fifty minutes out from kickoff Wednesday night at stately BMO Field, a fascinating thing happened:
— Hudson River Blue (@hudsonriverblue) May 18, 2016
With NYCFC having just run itself ragged Sunday night on the west coast, we had a feeling that Patrick Vieira would shake up the squad. But this was something else-- both DPs on the bench. Ronald Matarrita, Tommy McNamara, and Mikey Lopez off the team sheet entirely. Lord Mehdi, and Sir Ethan of White.
Staring down the barrel of the Sebastian Giovinco blunderbuss, you looked at that lineup and had just one thought.
Taking a point tonight will feel like a win.
That's precisely what happened.
Right out of the gate, the game could have exploded out in all directions: Giovinco found himself free on goal screaming up the right half, but vengeful golem Josh Saunders made the first of many grown-ass-man saves on the night.
Moments later, a deft Diego Martinez throughball met Patrick Mullins, who had oodles of open net to exploit. Looking for the far post, Mullins sprayed his effort wide.
With the ostensible B-Team out on the field for New York City, it wouldn't have been off-base to think that Mullins's bungled effort -- he really, really should have scored, and he knew it -- would be the squad's best chance on the night.
But don't tell that to Poku the Punisher.
All hail the Slayin' Ghanaian. He's like half James Brown, half Mother Theresa, but with Maurice Jones-Drew's wonderfully low center of gravity.
The Blues' hopes of entering the break with the lead were dashed, unfortunately, thanks to one of those defensive lapses that, mercifully, have become less of a given in 2016.
But lapse they did.
Josh Williams and Will Johnson got to slip behind the line unimpeded? Come on, guys.
The halftime whistle came shortly after.
The second period found Toronto placing both hands around New York City's neck little-by-little. Even without Jozy Altidore and Marky Delgado, the Reds were the more coherent, battle-tested bunch, and it showed as NYCFC faded down the stretch. Luckily, Saunders stayed frosty as hell between the sticks, producing a fantastic double-save in the 76th minute.
Ethan White gave way to RJ "The Monmouth Mauler" Allen just before the hour, and Vieira dropped Martinez for Andoni Iraola nine minutes later. Finally, Poku made way for David Villa. El Guaje didn't produce the late winner the traveling NYCFC fans were begging for.
The final whistle blew with the 1-1 scoreline intact. Yes, the three-match winning streak had snapped. But get this:
- Toronto became the first team to play five competitive games against New York City. The Reds have never won.
- Having now gone D-W-W-W-D on the trot, New York City has made it five straight without a loss for the first time in its brief history.
Another way of saying it? This draw -- on the road, rotated squad, powerful opponent -- feels a bit like a win.
If the Blues can keep the mojo working on to Saturday, it may very well be that something special is happening here with this NYCFC thing.