Albert Rusnak and Aaron Maund tallied on either side of halftime as Real Salt Lake fought back from a goal down to best visiting NYCFC Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, 2-1.
The result snapped a four-match losing streak for RSL, and marked New York City FC’s first defeat since April 23rd.
Patrick Vieira trotted out a rotated squad on the occasion in light of a cramped run of road fixtures:
GK: Sean Johnson
DEF: LB RJ Allen, CB Frederic Brillant, CB Alexander Callens, RB Ethan White
MID: CM Alex Ring, CM Andrea Pirlo, CAM Maxi Moralez
FWD: LW Tommy McNamara (c), CF Ugo Okoli, RW Miguel Camargo
The Boys in Blue managed to draw first blood in the fourth minute via Okoli, who muscled his way into the box and shrugged off two defenders to slot home past Nick Rimando. It was the first MLS goal for the former FC Cincinnati man, who made his second start of the year.
It was not, unfortunately, a sign of things to come.
As a light snow dusted the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first half, RSL were the more focused, opportunistic team. New York City let a handful of chances fall by the wayside as Miguel Camargo looked increasingly lost in a fog. RJ Allen and Andrea Pirlo were routinely used and abused in space, and captain Tommy McNamara, back on the left wing in place of first-choice Rodney Wallace, never found his footing.
Things just felt off. Then, in the 38th minute, the match jolted to life in all the wrong ways.
Albert Rusnak’s whip-crack would send things to halftime all square at one goal apiece. Conventional wisdom would hold that the first change for NYCFC wouldn’t be far away — couldn’t be, really — but Patrick Vieira chose to stick with his starting group for the second period.
The hosts were pretty happy about that.
One of the biggest differences between the 2017 New York City and previous editions is the vast improvement in defending set pieces. When it came to keeping out the goals off corner kick chances, the team used to leak worse than the White House. Of course, it had to be tonight that the mojo stopped working overtime.
Aaron Maund isn’t exactly a worldbeater. He just ain’t. But he had all the class RSL needed to take the result against a New York City team that just wasn’t sufficiently interested.
Shortly after the goal, David Villa and Jack Harrison relieved McNamara and Camargo, and it looked as if everything might change in an instant. To the eye, NYCFC had come to life. The chances returned. They were daring to command the pace of the game. But nothing quite came of it, and RSL were never truly tested.
When the final whistle came, it brought a merciful end to a famous stinker of a game. Even before the bad guys took the lead for good, this just wasn’t any fun to watch. Real Salt Lake entered the match with a -13 goal differential, dead-last in MLS. But on the night, it was NYCFC that looked the more flaccid side. And it only gets tougher: coming this Sunday is another trip down to Orlando, where New York City has never, ever won.
If they show up then like they did tonight, it’s gonna get really ugly really early.