As victories go, today’s against the Philadelphia Union wasn’t the prettiest. In fact, it was fairly ugly. But the three points?
Those three points count all the same.
They were badly needed three points. After suffering a stinging loss against Atlanta United, then fumbling away a win against New England on Wednesday, you got the feeling nothing less than a win would do.
For most of the game, however, that win loomed torturously away from the Blues’ grasp. It didn’t help that they were missing left winger Rodney Wallace, away on international duty with Costa Rica. The Union, for their part, came into today’s game winners of four of their last five games.
The first half was a disappointing affair, with few highlights. As we saw against Atlanta and New England, the fluidity and lethality suffused through the Blues’ attack early in the season was missing. Both teams sparred defensively, neither willing to surrender the least inch.
Where New York City attempted to score, they were denied. Whether by Andre Blake, or by the posts, or by the crossbar, they were denied. And with each denial, the frustration grew; the tension mounted. Would New York City score; could they score?
The half ended. The second half began. Still the Philadelphia defense held strong.
Then in the 69th minute, disaster struck. A turnover in midfield, off a Jack Harrison foul, saw the Union race down the field. The through pass from CJ Sapong was laid off beautifully for Fafa Picault, and moving at speed, he shot. And scored. Philadelphia led 1-0.
Yet the Blues forged on. And with each save and shot denied, the apprehension grew. Could Philadelphia really come away winners? Was New York City entering the kind of extended winless streak that’s plagued them each of the last two seasons?
In the 80th minute, it all turned around. The Blues lined up for a corner kick. The delivery? Exquisite. It found a charging Maxim Chanot, who scored the snap-down header with authority. Like that, the game was all square at one goal apiece.
But more was to come. After a Philadelphia shot caromed off the post in the 82nd minute, another New York City corner kick set the Blues up for victory. The outswinger found Jonathan Lewis, but he couldn’t get a handle on the ball. It bounced around, then Chanot laid off for Villa, who shot — and was denied yet again by Blake.
But the rebound found Alexander Callens, who scored on the tap in. New York City led 2-1.
With scarce minutes left in the game, Philadelphia could do nothing to rescue a draw. And so the game ended.
The win puts New York City on 24 points; dependent on results elsewhere this weekend, they’re in second place in the East. But it’s clear that this team badly misses Ronald Matarrita and Yangel Herrera. It was no coincidence that the Blues’ performance picked up noticeably after Matarrita replaced Miguel Camargo in the 60th minute. Matarrita simply has a combination of offensive and defensive skills that no other player on the roster has.
Meanwhile, the midfield’s performance has stuttered in Herrera’s absence; Maxi Moralez drops far deeper than he’d like in order to begin offensive sequences. Camargo is really an attacking midfielder, while McNamara is much more of a second forward than a midfielder. With Herrera on the field, Moralez performs optimally as an enganche — a traditionally Argentinian role, in which the player heads the midfield and is responsible for the transitional play between the deeper midfielders and attackers.
Without him, Moralez has to orchestrate that play from deeper in the midfield, which allows the defense to set up and frustrate New York City’s offense. And thus you have the resulting unhappy period in New York City fortunes.
However, today’s win means that New York City head into the international break with a win in their pocket.
What’s next? The Open Cup. It’s not just any Open Cup match, either — it’s a Hudson River Derby against the New York Red Bulls in Red Bull Arena on June 14th. That’s a Wednesday night matchup, in a competition that the Red Bulls haven’t particularly cared about.