Ten away games. Six victories. That’s how it stands after tonight’s victory over the Montréal Impact. The Blues have the best road record in Major League Soccer, and proved it again. In the process, they snapped the Impact’s six-game unbeaten skein like a twig.
Forced by an injury to Ronald Matarrita to juggle his backline, manager Patrick Vieira started right back RJ Allen on the left and gave backup defender Ethan White a rare start on the right. The rest of the lineup was unchanged from last week, with the exception of Tommy McNamara regaining his starting position as a left winger.
White demonstrated why starting was a rarity for him seconds into the game, as he sloppily turned over the ball to Montréal midfielder Harry Shipp. Allen then misplayed Shipp’s cross - a infrequent error by the normally steady defender - which allowed star forward Didier Drogba to make a Sunday stroll and shoot. Saunders made the save.
Like other teams, the Impact tried to pressure the Pigeons, denying them time and space on the ball. However, unlike last Sunday at Kansas City, New York City coped with the pressure and slowly grew into the game, gaining more and more possession as the half wore on. The Impact couldn’t take advantage of their early chances; time and again, Dominic Oduro blazed forward, only to slow down as he approached a Pigeons’ defender, which allowed them to adjust and reset.
In the 35th minute, New York City broke the deadlock. Tommy McNamara found himself with space and time. Those are two things you simply cannot give the Nyack midfielder. Receiving the ball from defender Jefferson Mena, McNamara spun his marker around and lost him. Spotting Villa up top, he then whizzed a long pass to the Spanish forward. Villa used an artful little shove to get himself free, then slotted the ball past keeper Evan Bush’s left to score.
That it came against the run of play didn’t matter. The Pigeons were off and flying. They broke Montréal’s pressure, and imposed their will on the game.
Things got worse for the Impact. In first-half stoppage time, with halftime only seconds away, Montréal got themselves into a deeper hole.
Again, McNamara received the ball from the defense; this time, Brillant. Again, McNamara used his preternatural vision to spot a defensive lapse. He lofted a long, cross-field pass to Jack Harrison.
What happened next was astonishing (if you’re a Pigeons fan or a neutral) or tragicomic (if you’re an Impact fan). Harrison went left. Went right. Went left again. Dropped Oyongo down, and left him scrabbling. Opened up his body, then dropped a sweetly swerving shot past a desperately diving Bush to double the New York City lead.
New York City’s smooth play continued into the second half, but it did not last. Ten minutes after the half started, Harry Shipp got the ball off a dead start. He attempted a shot from distance. Incredibly, Frederic Brillant botched the clearance and screened Josh Saunders, who could only flap weakly at the ball as it crossed the goal line.
The goal brought the Impact and the crowd to life. But it wasn’t enough. Despite their efforts, New York City still maintained control of the game. In the 62nd minute, Drogba appeared to stomp on defensive midfielder Andoni Iraola’s foot. The foul, for which Drogba incredibly wasn’t even carded, forced the Basque player off. Vieira brought Mikey Lopez on as his replacement.
With five minutes to go in regulation, Frank Lampard sealed the win for the Pigeons. As the Impact scrambled to get an equalizer, two Montréal defenders clashed as they tried to intercept a lofted pass. That left Andrea Pirlo wide open to pounce on the ball, which he then passed to an equally wide open Villa. Villa strolled down the left, then crossed to Lampard, who was just as wide open. A frantically onrushing Impact defender only managed to force Lampard to scoop the shot with his shin, rather than make a more conventional shot.
Next up for the Pigeons? The rubber match of the Hudson River Derby. They’ll be playing the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. The game is at 1 p.m. New York City will be looking for their first ever win there, and a second-straight win in the derby.
Where do the Pigeons stand road record-wise? Well, their mark of 1.9 PPG is the best in MLS since the 2010 LA Galaxy. The Galaxy won the Supporters’ Shield that season, but failed to make the MLS Cup Final. They were knocked out 3-0 by FC Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, who in turn lost to the Colorado Rapids in the MLS Cup Final. Meanwhile, the league record for road victories in a single season is nine, jointly held by various teams.
New York City looks to be in good place to at least match that record. They have seven road games left: the Red Bulls next Sunday, then San Jose, Columbus, Orlando, New England, Houston, and DC.