Yangel Herrera threw up his hands in despair, then prowled in frustration and raged impotently. He’d been robbed of a clear penalty just minutes into the game, then given a yellow card right after that passage of play. Now referee Allen Chapman was charging him for another foul? After Bastian Schweinsteiger rolled into him? He expressed his displeasure with those decisions, especially the former.
Chapman let him vent, then let him go. And then he decided he heard enough, and after Herrera still kept arguing, gave him a second yellow card. And then produced the red card, ejecting the Venezuelan starlet from the match.
New York City – coming off a loss against Vancouver and a draw against league leaders Toronto FC that felt like a loss – now would have to play at least the next 78 minutes down a man, against not just the second-place team in the league, but a Chicago Fire squad that was unbeaten in their last five road games.
You’d be forgiven for thinking a draw was probably the best result you could expect now. You’d also be wrong.
Down to 10 men, the Pigeons decided to bring the pressure to Chicago, instead of waiting and absorbing wave after wave of Fire forays. Time after time during that first half, New York City surged forward, wreaking havoc in the Chicago backline. And yet, they couldn’t score.
In the 37th minute, things only got harder. Defenders Ben Sweat and Frederic Brillant clashed heads, and it was clear that Sweat got knocked out in the process. A woozy Sweat had to be gingerly helped off the field, and manager Patrick Vieira was forced into using a precious substitution. But rather than make a strictly defensive replacement, necessity forced invention. Vieira instead replaced Sweat with midfielder Mikey Lopez. That took care of two issues – Lopez could double as a fourth member of the backline, but as a midfielder, he could fill the void left by Herrera’s ejection.
Thanks to Sweat’s injury, there were four minutes of stoppage time. New York City saw that time out in relief. But Chicago made a halftime substitution with menacing, attacking intent – introducing striker David Accam at halftime.
Then, scarcely into the second half, lightning struck twice. First, from a familiar source. Jonathan Lewis – playing superlatively in his first league start - found himself with the ball, and more importantly, with scads of space and time. He composed himself, then delivered the ball on a dime to David Villa. Villa struck a gorgeous half-volley from distance, and Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson could do nothing about it.
Just three minutes later, Chicago found itself scrambling on defense again. Frederic Brillant nodded the ball off the crossbar, then Lampson failed to handle it properly, gifting Brillant another pointblank chance at scoring. He didn’t fail, though two Fire defenders clashed with him, causing him to lie injured on the pitch after scoring his first MLS goal.
But the Fire weren’t surrendering abjectly. They’re too good of a team to do that. In the 54th minute, Accam fired a rocket from distance, and like that, the lead was halved.
Try as they might, the Fire simply couldn’t capitalize on their chances as they mounted. The New York City defense – man for man - was simply playing in an inspired, gritty manner. No matter how desperate their defending, it was equal to the task at hand.
By the time the final whistle sounded, players staggered in exhaustion. But New York City had bagged three precious points, keeping the race for both the Eastern Conference lead and the Supporters Shield razor close. Toronto will play Colorado later today, but as of right now, the standings have New York City within two points of the Reds, and just a single point behind Chicago.
Next up for New York City – a massive road match against Toronto FC next Sunday at 2 in the afternoon. That game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
OK, so about Herrera’s red card.
There is no question that referee Allen Chapman had a shocker of a game. He missed at least two legitimate penalty calls – one on Herrera, the other on Maxi Moralez, he routinely let the game get away from him in the first half, then tried tightening up when it was too late, and the list goes on.
But Yangel Herrera needs to be way more disciplined as well. Players get denied calls they feel they deserve all the time. Many times, they’re right! Was Herrera right to be upset at being denied a penalty? Sure! Was he right to be upset at getting called for a soft yellow? Probably.
But getting a yellow card for dissent is just not a good thing. Especially when you’re already on a yellow! You just don’t risk that, especially as a good teammate. What Herrera did was an incredibly selfish move that basically forced his teammates to cover for his absence for nearly an entire game.
And for what? Because he didn’t get a couple of calls his way? So what? Deal with it. Yeah, it sucks. Yeah, it’s unfair. Life’s unfair. Sometimes, it’s unfair in your favor – and Herrera’s certainly been the beneficiary of that. And sometimes, it’s unfair against you.
It’s great that New York City won. But the truth is that it was a victory that was made a lot tougher because Yangel Herrera decided he’d rather snap off at Allen Chapman rather than let things ride.