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RECAP: New York City 3, Minnesota 1

Pigeons peck Loons at will, win first Bird Cup

MLS: Minnesota United FC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Despite giving up an early goal, New York City controlled tonight’s game from start to finish, and ended up walking away with a fourth straight win. However, they lost left wingback Ronald Matarrita to injury yet again, and backup goalkeeper Eirik Johansen was shaky, particularly early in the match.

Fresh off defeating the Red Bulls for only the second time, the Pigeons came out firing and ready to play. They controlled the pace of the game right from the start, and it looked like a go-ahead goal was only a matter of time.

But soccer is a game of chance just as much as it is a game of skill. Early on, it looked like luck strove against the Pigeons. First, Ronald Matarrita left the game injured, just as he was getting into the swing of things. As he drove down the field, Matarrita pulled up hobbling, and was unable to continue. It’s unclear how serious the injury is, but it continues a frustrating year for the Tico star.

Seconds later, Johan Venegas took a crack from distance, right into Johansen’s arms. However, the Swede couldn’t hold on to the ball, spilling it right in front of him. Christian Ramirez took advantage, and scored one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score. It didn’t help that the defense was a bit unsettled; but a goalkeeper has to do better than that.

In a situation like that, you simply have to forget that you’ve surrendered an early goal. New York City’s players did just that. They promptly reasserted their control of the game, and it was only thanks to some stellar play from Bobby Shuttleworth that the Pigeons didn’t immediately draw level — never mind take the lead. Yangel Herrera had the best chances to do that, repeatedly coming close.

In the 38th minute, New York City finally found their breakthrough. Defenders Alexander Callens and Ben Sweat executed an exquisite give-and-go sequence, with Callens deftly striking from close range and equalizing.

The goal is Callens’ second of the year, but it’s the sequence that’s noteworthy. The flowing sequence was something that you’d expect from the midfield or forwards, not the defense — and yet, here we have two backs, one of whom was discarded by another MLS team as not MLS caliber, just bossing the goal into existence.

The teams went into the locker room tied at one apiece, but a Pigeons lead was only a matter of when, not if. It came in the 52nd minute, in a sumptuous sequence started by Thomas McNamara.

McNamara finds a wide-open Rodney Wallace on the wing. Wallace then absolutely carves up the back line with a sweet, sweet pass to Jack Harrison, who scores with the simple header. McNamara, who’s been in and out of the lineup this year thanks to New York City’s improved depth, has really found his element as a replacement number 10 for Maxi Moralez, who remains out injured.

The scoring wrapped up with a cracking David Villa goal in the 63rd minute.

The goal was vintage Villa. He starts the run in midfield, scoops the ball past one defender, then skedaddles past another bevy, and slots home past a despairing Shuttleworth, who can do nothing about the state of matters.

At that point, New York City were in utter control of the game, but manager Patrick Vieira didn’t refrain from pushing for more. In the 78th minute, he subbed Andrea Pirlo on for Wallace. It was only the second appearance for Pirlo in 11 games. The Italian showed no lingering effects from the injury he’s been suffering from all spring and summer, but it was unclear from his play tonight whether he was simply rusty or whether it was his trademark languid playing style.

Despite some more nervy moments from Johansen, the Loons never looked like scoring in the second half, and the Pigeons saw the game out.

GOOD: New York City never panicked while trailing, and kept control of the game. They navigated nervy play by Eirik Johansen and an early injury to Matarrita with verve, and won with ease.

BAD: Not so much bad as meh — for a third straight time at home, the Pigeons trailed in a game before coming back to win. It’s great to see New York City display the kind of mental toughness needed to do that, especially if the team’s going to contend for MLS Cup. And yet — you’d rather lead rather than trail early. Coming back does entail an expenditure of energy.

Also worrisome: watching Matarrita leave with what looked a lot like a hamstring injury, or at least a muscular injury. Let’s hope Mata’s OK.

Next up for the Pigeons — a late Wednesday night game against the Vancouver Whitecaps. That game is at 10 pm EDT, 7 pm PDT, and it’ll be on YES.