Since arriving in Arizona for the Desert Diamond Cup early this month, NYCFC’s 2017 preseason campaign has been underwhelming and poor, losing in all three matchups via avoidable mistakes and poor defense chemistry. Despite the emergence of 16-year-old wonderboy James Sands and the arrival of new midfield star Maxi Moralez, NYC had failed to add legitimacy to its many moral victories leading up to their showdown against Sporting Kansas City at Kino North Stadium on Saturday.
But this time, City would not be denied, pulling out a 1-0 victory over the Wizd.
Coach Patrick Vieira mixed age with beauty in what could arguably be NYC’s most exciting starting eleven to date:
GK: Sean Johnson
DEF: R.J. Allen, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Ronald Matarrita
MID: Alexander Ring, Yangel Herrera, Maxi Moralez
FWD: Jack Harrison, David Villa (c), Rodney Wallace
Midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Tommy McNamara were both healthy scratches following both playing a full-90 on Wednesday against Colorado.
Unlike their previous preseason outings, NYC looked aggressive and hungry from the onset. The midfield was gelling wonderfully and was constantly linking successfully with the forwards, putting immediate pressure on Kansas City’s back line. This continued pressure allowed for the Blues’ first scoring chance in the 16th minute when a corner led to a beautiful header by center back Maxime Chanot, whose shot was stopped on the line by SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia.
City continued to dominate in the final minutes of the first half as the midfield bogged down the Sporting attack and sprung chances on the counter. In the 34th minute, Maxi Moralez sent a gorgeous ball over the Kansas City defense, narrowly missing David Villa’s boot.
The first half ended in a 0-0 deadlock, despite continued pressure from NYC’s midfield.
The Bronx Blues would not be denied for long, however, as they would strike early in the second half.
Following a great combo between Alexander Callens and Jack Harrison down the left side, Maxi Moralez sent in a lovely cross which was met by David Villa at the edge of the six and headed past keeper Tim Melia to give NYC a well-deserved 1-0 lead in the 51st minute.
New York City’s advantage would be put in serious jeopardy in the 64th minute. Following center back Alexander Callens’ dispossession in the defensive third, SKC midfielder Benny Feilhaber would be brought down in the box by left back Ronald Matarrita, forcing the man in charge to signal for a Kansas City penalty.
But the anxiety wouldn’t last long, as Soony Saad’s penalty would be saved by a lunging Sean Johnson, allowing City to maintain their lead. Johnson would soon follow this with another big stop against Saad from point blank range in the 67th minute.
Saad’s day would only get worse after a reckless sliding tackle on midfielder James Sands in the 82nd minute led to him receiving a straight red from the referee, which resulted in Sporting KC having to finish the game with 10 men.
New York City’s continued pressing in the midfield and on defense led to retaining their narrow lead until the final whistle, giving the Boys in Blue a much needed boost of confidence going into the 2017 regular season.
New DP Maxi Moralez once again proved to be electric in the midfield throughout his 90-minute shift. The man they call “Frasquito” consistently evaded defenders both centrally and down the flank, logging an assist to none other than El Capitan himself in the process. Judging by how he’s performed in his two appearances thus far, it isn’t a stretch to assume that Moralez will play an instrumental part in City’s success this year.
Midfielder Alexander Ring made his first appearance for NYC and did more than just hold his own in the #8 role. The Finnish international made his presence felt all game, creating good hold up play and also making some daring tackles. With midfielders like Andrea Pirlo and Tommy McNamara waiting in the wings, Ring had to really assert himself in order to increase his chances of receiving significant playing time this season. And from where I’m sitting, he did just that.
Manchester City loanee and defensive midfielder Yangel Herrera also introduced himself today. Much like Alex Ring, Herrera made leaps and bounds to prove to the boss why he should be the first choice when it comes to the #6 role. The 19-year-old Venezuelan played with focus and composure in the midfield and also made inroads to establishing himself as a good passing threat, sending a number of long balls to wingers Jack Harrison and Rodney Wallace with, dare I say, Pirlo-esque precision. I fully expect him to be in the starting eleven come March 5th.
Out of all of the new faces we saw today, I feel left winger Rodney Wallace was the odd man out in terms of performance. Though he didn’t play bad per se, he failed to make a significant difference down the left flank, as most of his crosses seemed to get neutralized by the back-tracking fullbacks. While I don’t see a starting role to be completely out of the question, I do expect Miguel Camargo to get the nod from coach Patrick Vieira when it comes to the left wing position. That is, until Jonathan Lewis returns from international duties with USA’s U-20 squad. Then, things should get interesting.
Much to the sadness of my colleague, Sam Dunn, today may have marked the final time 16-year-old James Sands wears blue. For now, at least. In a media conference call on Thursday, NYCFC boss Patrick Vieira iterated that they are handling Sands’ progress very carefully and are considering his future on a day-by-day basis. While this doesn’t completely rule Sands out to make the squad this season, it does make his immediate future with the club a bit more difficult to read.
Next up: No more friendlies. No more preseason feelers. The wait is over. City’s next game will be against Orlando City SC away on March 5th at 5PM ET to kick off the 2017 MLS season. Mark it down, folks. New York City soccer is back!