Everyone remembers their first.
Coming off a bitter 4-0 defeat at the hands of their local rival New York Red Bulls, New York City FC descended upon the west coast to take on expansion side Los Angeles FC in their first-ever matchup against each other, eager to wipe clean the sins committed a week prior. And trust me when I say that this match wasn’t just must-see, it was can’t-miss.
Reminiscent of their game against Atlanta United earlier this season, the Boys in Blue fought the Black-and-Gold in a balls-to-the-wall contest that was battled until the dying minutes. The war of attrition ended in a 2-2 draw. And while it was not quite the result that NYCFC were probably hoping for, few can argue the game’s sheer intensity and the excitement it generated. Plus, who can really argue with a road point?
From the opening kickoff, LAFC seemed determined to pick up right where the Red Bulls a week prior by pressing NYCFC’s backline in the hopes of forcing mistakes. Despite this, however, it would be the Blues who would draw first blood.
Right back Anton Tinnerholm got into an advanced position and fired a shot, which caromed off of LA defender Eduard Atuesta’s arm inside the box. Upon consulting with the VAR, referee Chris Penso awarded NYCFC a penalty. David Villa stepped up to take the shot from the spot and was initially denied by goalkeeper Tyler Miller. However, the Spanish legend wouldn’t be denied of his 402nd career goal and headed the ball home off the sharp deflection, giving the good guys a 1-0 lead early on.
The goal seemingly served as a wake-up call to LAFC, who continued to fight hard and put City’s defense under pressure. The onslaught continued, and was eventually punctuated in the 23rd minute. LA’s Walker Zimmerman headed the ball towards goal and right towards NYCFC center back Sebastien Ibeagha, who was replacing the injured Maxime Chanot. The young American defender could not handle it as he helplessly fanned at the ball and deflected it into his own net, allowing the Angels to knot the game at 1-1.
From there, the game began to open up. City continuously tried to build from the back, but LA would repeatedly snuff out the Blues attack Even still, the Blues’ defense held strong and prevented the opposition from pulling ahead and allowing the game to get out of hand.
Both teams continued this high-octane stop-and-go pace until the first half ended at a 1-1 impasse.
The second half saw initially saw NYCFC one again on the defensive, having to stop a handful of LA counter-attacks. But City’s offense would start to spring to life in the 50th minute when Villa narrowly missed a shot wide following a huge buildup. Maxi Moralez would also have a significant chance to pull the Blues ahead in the 54th, but his shot would also miss the frame.
Despite NYCFC knocking on the door, it would be LAFC that would register the first tally of the second half. In the 67th minute, the ever-dangerous Carlos Vela put one past keeper Sean Johnson after City failed to clear the ball in the box, giving the Angels a 2-1 lead.
But NYCFC wouldn’t be denied of a crucial road point.
Shortly after conceding, Patrick Vieira changed his approach and brought on the returning Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in place of fullback Ben Sweat. And in the 75th minute, a huge counter saw Tinnerholm make an overlapping run and attempt to put the ball into the box. The pass took a vicious deflection off an LA defender that forced keeper Tyler Miller into action, but Tajouri-Shradi was right there to clean up the trash and score from an acute angle, mere minutes after coming on. The sensational goal brought the game back to 2-2.
The remainder of the game was an absolute slugfest, with both teams creating quality chances. But keepers Johnson and Miller — as well as their defenses — were both up to task, making huge stops when needed.
After four minutes of stoppage time — and a VAR review that we still don’t quite understand — referee Chris Penso below the final whistle, giving both teams a share of the spoils at Banc of California Stadium.
Next up: NYCFC returns home on May 19th to host the struggling Colorado Rapids