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RECAP: New England 2, New York City 1

Loss sets up critical season finale next weekend

MLS: New York City FC at New England Revolution Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

If you were a New York City fan seeking to assuage your epic disappointment at Tuesday’s shambolic performance by the USMNT with a road win, I’m sorry. New York City went to Foxboro and basically laid an egg.

Diego Fagundez scored twice, and though Khiry Shelton finally scored his first goal of the year, it wasn’t enough. By any measure, New York City — a club that was touted as a legitimate MLS contender during the summer — is stumbling into the postseason.

Let’s look at what happens, and what comes next.

The game was a somnolent 26 minutes old when its most critical point took place. Neither team had managed to put much of a mark on proceedings, the abysmal New England turf causing the ball to skitter around. Jack Harrison tried to take possession and advance with the ball, but he lost control. The England U-21 winger went chasing after the ball, nearly managing to bring it under control, when he clattered into Teal Bunbury.

Bunbury laid on the ground, as Revolution and Pigeons players gathered around. Referee Nima Saghafi tried to unbundle the situation. Minutes passed. And then — Saghafi pulled out the red card.

Two things come to mind:

  • First, that’s clearly at least a yellow card. You can make an argument that that’s all that it should’ve been, which is manager Patrick Vieira’s take. But Harrison goes in on a two-footed tackle, and if Bunbury is positioned otherwise by inches, it’s a leg-breaking tackle. If Harrison is going to do a slide tackle, he’s got to do better. This wasn’t a critical game situation, it’s not like Bunbury was looking to take off on the counter. It didn’t need a hard challenge like that.
  • Second, Saghafi isn’t a regular referee. He’s normally a fourth official. Put it another way: he’s not used to being in these kinds of situations. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to get, I don’t know, a second opinion on this decision? Didn’t MLS, in fact, create such a thing with the video assistant referee (VAR)?

VAR is meant to be used in four situations:

  • Goals
  • Penalty kicks
  • Straight red cards
  • Mistaken identity

Let me say that again: VAR is meant to be used with straight red cards. So why didn’t it get used here? About the only weekend that MLS has had an unqualified success with the VAR system is the first. Ever since, there’s been one controversy or another with it. The league desperately needs to get its act together with it, because otherwise, what’s the point?

This matters because from that point on, New York City was defending with 10 men. And let’s face it: the Pigeons did a creditable job with that. Even after Diego Fagundez scored his first goal in the 51st minute, you never got the impression that New York City was truly out of the game.

But they weren’t much in it, either. David Villa tried his best to create something out of nothing, but New York City’s offense is absolutely running on fumes. It’s now been eight games since they’ve scored more than a single goal. Rodney Wallace hasn’t scored since May 21st, but he continues to start games on the left wing. Khiry Shelton might’ve finally broken his duck, but it was on a goal to which he maybe delivered the briefest, lightest of touches. Meanwhile, Jonathan Lewis — who’s been electric in his on-field appearances, and scored twice — didn’t even make the 18-man roster. You think he maybe might contribute something — anything! — to an attack that basically consists of Villa and a prayer, but perhaps we are all mistaken.

Still, Johnson delivered another outstanding performance on goal, and the defense exerted themselves heroically, until they could do no more than what they had done. In the 92nd minute, New England tore off on an three-on-one breakaway. Johnson saved the first shot, Callens the second, but Fagundez slotted home on the third to make the score 2-0. That New York City managed to score straight off the kickoff mattered not, because the game ended shortly thereafter.

This is where things stand after tonight:

Only three points separate New York City from Columbus. Depending on how next week’s games finish, the Pigeons could stay in second place, earning a vital bye. Or they could be starting on the road, having fallen to fifth. Yes, fifth. So it’s a good thing that they’re playing at ho—

Oh, no. They’re playing at Citi Field, because they got unceremoniously ejected from their home stadium thanks to the New York Yankees, the real residents of Yankee Stadium.

One of the biggest advantages teams have in MLS is home play. The Revolution are probably the best example — 39 of their 42 total points have come at home. You’ve got one of the most critical games in team history coming up — a game that literally could determine how many postseason games they have to play — and they’re forced to play it in a stadium that they’ve never played in. And they’ll be missing their second-leading scorer on top of it.

Nope, nothing wrong here.

Up next for the Pigeons: a massive game against Columbus Crew SC next Sunday. It’s the final game of the season.