The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
After an exciting week which saw the signings of Rodney Wallace, John Stertzer, and new DP Maxi Moralez, New York City FC walked into the Kino Sports Complex for a cross-conference “friendly” (we’ll get to that) with the Houston Dynamo in which they hoped to showcase their new assets and make an early statement.
When the dust had settled, the Boys in Blue were caught wanting, dropping a 3-1 result marred by controversy.
In stark contrast to their Wednesday matchup with the rival Red Bulls, City elected to go with a lineup made up mostly of perennial starters or otherwise established players to face off with the Dynamo.
NYC lined up as follows:
GK: Sean Johnson
DEF: RJ Allen, Frederic Brillant, Maxime Chanot, Ben Sweat
MID: Maxi Moralez, James Sands, Andrea Pirlo
FWD: Jack Harrison, David Villa (c), Tommy McNamara
It didn’t take long before things looked ominous. In just the 2nd minute of the game, center back Maxime Chanot lost possession in the defensive third to Houston attacker Erick “Cubo” Torres, leading to a one-on-one chance for forward Romell Quioto. The Honduran international slotted a goal far-post past City keeper Sean Johnson to take an early 1-0 lead.
The Bronx Blues would equalize in the 15th, however, following a gorgeous, slicing far-post finish by captain David Villa on a monstrous counter-attack anchored by the newly arrived Maxi Moralez and star youngster Jack Harrison, the latter being awarded the assist.
Then, things got heated.
Shortly following NYC coach Patrick Vieira’s ejection from the bench for reasons which are not entirely known, Villa was involved in an altercation with Dynamo defender A.J. DeLaGarza in the 38th minute. Villa’s hand-to-the-face was initially penalized with a yellow card by referee Nima Saghafi, but upon video review, the Spanish captain was sent off for unsporting behavior. City had to play the remainder of the game with 10 men.
Despite Villa’s forced exit, NYC was able to endure and finish out the first half with the 1-1 deadlock intact.
But they couldn’t hold on forever.
The second half started much like the first, with Houston going up 2-1 after a goal from midfielder Alex in the 50th minute off another costly defensive turnover by New York City, this time by the 16-year-old James Sands. Houston would later punctuate the victory in the 89th minute on a goal from midfielder Memo Rodriguez, a trialist for Dynamo, immediately following a botched clearance by unsigned rookie Kwame Awuah.
Now, despite all of the mistakes and the odd David Villa red card, there were positives.
This current midfield is loaded with talent, and Maxi Moralez figures to fit in perfectly at the attacking end of it. On numerous occasions, the new #10 served as a quality link between Andrea Pirlo and David Villa, in addition to drawing numerous fouls and generally keeping the motor running between the midfield and the forwards.
The negatives of this game cannot be glossed over, however, and must be addressed.
City is still struggling defensively. All three of Houston’s goals could be (and should be) attributed to poor decisions made at the back in what was a very physical and scrappy game. And if the Boys in Blue have any hope on improving upon last year, in which they allowed the fourth most goals in the league, something must change in the back-four, whether it be the lineup itself or Patrick Vieira’s insistence on building from the back.
With the start of the 2017 season right around the corner, NYCFC has many issues it must fix to once again find itself in contention for the MLS Cup. And as history has shown us, all the goals in the world cannot make up for a leaky defense in desperate need of patchwork.