One of the things that makes MLS such a tough league to play in is its sheer grind. Regardless of how fast you start, there comes a time in late July and early August where the games just become a slog. Gone is the breeziness of March and April; September and October, lie just this side of far away.
Tonight’s game against a mediocre-to-bad LA Galaxy was one of those games. New York City came in on the high of having beaten archrivals New York Red Bulls 3-2. Not only would they have to travel cross-country to Los Angeles, they’d be playing the late game -- an 11 p.m. Eastern time kickoff. And on top of that, they’d be missing midfield metronome Maxi Moralez, suspended for yellow card accumulation.
In other words, this was the very definition of a “trap game”.
New York City very nearly fell into it. After a bright, composed start to the game, the Galaxy began creating chances. They took the game to the Pigeons, creating scoring chance after scoring chance. It was only thanks to a stalwart performance by Johnson that New York City didn’t find themselves trailing.
Despite controlling possession, the Pigeons could do nothing with it. Because of Moralez’s absence, manager Patrick Vieira moved Tommy McNamara into the number 10 slot, and gave winger Jonathan Lewis a second straight start. However, McNamara was mostly invisible for large stretches of the first half. That forced Lewis, David Villa, and Jack Harrison to drop deep in search of the ball. It also destroyed any semblance of a rhythm New York City had on offense.
The teams went into half scoreless, but in truth, LA was unlucky not to be leading by one or two at the break. Johnson, who’s been a massive upgrade over Josh Saunders in goal this season, turned in probably his finest performance yet in making it so.
The Galaxy kept threatening as the second half opened. They remained on the front foot, until Lewis created this moment of magic from nothing.
Watch how the Galaxy keep dropping back. That affords Lewis time and space on the ball to size up his shot. Given that, a player like Lewis — no matter how raw — will take advantage of that. That was Lewis’ first MLS goal; and it was a well-deserved golazo.
From that point on, New York City were on the front foot. LA kept threatening, but Johnson was more than equal to the task. The lead might’ve been 1-0, but with Johnson in goal, it might’ve well as been 3-0 or 4-0.
In the 73rd minute, David Villa delivered yet another sparkling note in a MLS career that’s full of them. Villa literally took on three Galaxy defenders, sized up his shot regardless...and drilled it home. It was Villa’s 18th goal of the season.
That goal sealed the win, given how well Johnson was playing. It didn’t matter what kind of shots LA took. Nothing was getting past him this game. His performance was the kind that makes national team coaches take notice.
The win — New York City’s 13th of the season — ties them with Toronto with the most in the league. It also pulls them into second place in the East, thanks to Chicago’s 3-1 loss to Columbus earlier on Saturday. They trail Toronto by four points.
The game was costly for New York City in one respect, however. Both midfielder Alexander Ring and defender Ethan White will miss the next game — against the New England Revolution next Sunday — due to yellow card accumulation.