At this stage of the MLS season, you don’t get points for style and verve. You get them for wins and draws. It is ever a truism in this league that if you draw your games on the road, and win them at home, then come October, all will be taken care of.
New York City are doing just that. All eyes might be on Atlanta United — unbeaten in their last eight, pile-driving through teams like a thresher through the wheat. But still the Pigeons fly above, just out of reach. They may not be enthralling people with their play; it is, in fact, lackluster. It is so because of injury and because of the sheer grind of playing a league season across the breadth of a continent. But it is proving enough, just so.
The Fire came into tonight’s game having rediscovered their offensive touch. Three wins out of their last five games included a brutally efficient evisceration of the San Jose Earthquakes three evenings ago. Early on, it looked as though Chicago would continue their winning ways. They put New York City under consistent pressure, and threatened to score early. A goal seemed a matter of when, not if.
It came in the 20th minute. The Pigeons managed to scrabble away yet another foray from the fire. The ball was cleared only as far as midfielder Maxi Moralez. Moralez -- for reasons only known, perhaps, to him -- decided to dribble instead of simply clearing the ball further afield.
To compound the error, Moralez then dribbled into New York City’s penalty area, and then to compound it even further, he dribbled straight towards the goal. At which point Chicago defender Matt Polster, who’d been harrying him throughout this sequence, simply decided to bull Moralez off the ball. Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic took advantage of Moralez’s gift offering, and scored the sitter.
Only four minutes later, goalkeeper Sean Johnson was forced into a nifty save as the Fire looked to double their lead. But from that point on, the Pigeons grew into the game. It’s worth remembering that no team is better at coming from behind than New York City; they are 5-7-2 when surrendering the first goal. Only Toronto and Portland have managed to safeguard a lead against the men in blue.
Finally, in the 43rd minute, New York City broke through. Maxi Moralez coolly received a ball in midfield. Deftly, he then worked a bit of separation from his marker. Seeing David Villa barrel forward, he floated a perfectly weighted chipped pass to him.
Villa trapped the ball, took an extra moment and touch to settle it. Slipping past both the defender marking him and the keeper, he slotted home. It was his 20th of the season. The game was drawn anew, at one goal apiece.
This was not a vintage MLS game. From that point onward, both sides were content to cautiously spar, holding each other at bay. It ended at 1-1. But it was a valuable point nonetheless, as Atlanta was able only to earn a point themselves against New England. That leaves the gap at three points between the Pigeons and the Five Stripes.
I close this recap on a personal note.
Tonight is managing editor Sam Dunn’s final match running Hudson River Blue. I may have created this site four years ago. Sam, however, has infused it with life, wit, verve, and a voice that’s unique to this place. It’s not going to be the same place with him not around as the managing editor. I’m going to miss him, deeply. No one is irreplaceable; we float on as leaves on the stream. But everyone is inimitable, and Sam more than most. Good luck and god speed, man.
Good luck, and good night.