In every American sport — but specifically MLS — Game 1 is the most magical time of the year. The possibility that your team could break every record under the sun or set new standards in futility are both equally possible. New York City FC’s quest to avoid futility/get off to a flying start began in the “Blue Hell” of Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. On top of that, their mission on Sunday night entailed facing a Sporting Kansas City side that had beaten them two times out of three and revamped their attack in the offseason.
Mission accomplished. And then some.
NYCFC took three points from their first match of the year, defeating Peter Vermes’ Sporting Kansas City 2-0.
NYCFC’s first chance came four minutes in, when Jesus Medina’s pass in the box to Anton Tinnerholm was knocked away at the last second. Maxi Moralez floated a dangerous ball into the box, but it was parried away by the expectedly stalwart Tim Melia.
Kansas City woke up after that. They had a chance in the 12th minute, as new DP signing Felipe Guttierez’s corkscrewing shot from distance was stopped by Sean Johnson. NYCFC looked the more aggressive and efficient side in the first 15 minutes.
Alex Ring’s 17th-minute volley from distance would have been an astounding way to open his NYCFC account, but Melia got a glove to it. Just two minutes later, Kansas City were inches away from their first goal, as Roger Espinoza’s header forced Johnson to use every inch of his frame to bat it away.
In the 26th minute, Kansas City were awarded three successive corners, but NYCFC were able to deny them each time. Guttierez and Yohan Croizet almost connected on a spectacular goal in the 30th, but Croizet’s shot went just wide. While NYCFC controlled the game for the first 15 minutes, Kansas City were the better side for the second set. They were starting to find a rhythm.
It took until the 32nd minute, but the Boys in Blue finally got on the board. David Villa‘s lovely pass in the box to Maxi Moralez gave them a 1-0 lead with his sixth MLS goal. The positive momentum would come to a screeching halt soon thereafter. Ike Opara went up for a header in the box, and collided with both Johnson and Maxime Chanot. Fortunately, all three players continued on.
Sporting continued to show more teeth in their attack than in years prior. Croizet let loose a nice curling shot from the top of the box, but it sailed just a bit to high. NYCFC tried to respond with a set piece goal, but Moralez’s cross was deflected by Matt Besler.
Christian Lobato made a terrific play to deny Villa a goal on the counter-attack to keep the score at 1-0 at the half. New signings Medina and Tinnerholm played extremely well, always looking to get forward and create chances. Rodney Wallace struggled, looking hesitant and nervous. Patrick Vieira’s side was in rhythm for most of the first half.
81 seconds into the second half, Moralez almost gave NYCFC his second goal, but his shot couldn’t hit home. In the 53rd minute, Medina found himself on the scoresheet in his debut. Ben Sweat led the counter-attack picking out Medina and the Paraguayan international slotted home his first.
Kansas City wouldn’t go quietly, however. Opara fired a header in from close range, but Johnson’s quick hands kept the ball out. While Sporting’s attack looked deadly at times, they had difficulty finishing the entire night. The substitution of youngster Daniel Salloi for ineffective striker Diego Rubio gave Kansas City some extra pace and creativity in the final third, but they still couldn’t break through. A 68th minute shot had some heat on it but went right at Johnson’s stomach.
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi made his debut in the 70th minute, replacing Medina. Soon thereafter, he showed off the speed and dribbling that he made himself known for in Europe. A nice pass to Moralez at the six-yard box resulted in a questionable no call when Besler knocked Moralez over.
Salloi earned a penalty when Chanot sent him tumbling in the penalty area. Head referee Mark Geiger took a second look at the play using VAR (video assisted replay). He waved the penalty off upon the review — NYCFC dodged a major bullet late.
Ronald Matarrita came on in the 85th minute, replacing David Villa. Villa didn’t get himself a goal, but his orchestration of the masterful NYCFC attack and his assist should earn him rave reviews for his performance.
Immediately after, Gerso Fernandes was clipped down on the edge of the box by Chanot. Kansas City not only earned a penalty, but Chanot’s night was ended by a red card. Sebastien Ibeagha made his first appearance in sky blue, replacing Moralez. Guttierez took the free kick, but a great save from Johnson deflected the ball just enough to have it slam off the crossbar.
Kansas City had a couple more close chances in the waning minutes, but nothing that troubled Johnson too much. NYCFC wins the opener, 2-0.
Drawing at Children’s Mercy Park requires a squad to be on their A-game. To not only take three points, but win by two goals, required both a tactical masterclass and a sublime performance on the pitch. Vieira and his players accomplished both. It’s hard to ask for a better performance in Match 1 given the circumstances.
What were your thoughts on the game? Let us know in the comments.