It was a must-win for New York City FC. Having dropped some key points to the Vancouver Whitecaps at home the previous weekend, NYCFC entered the bordering Canada to face defending MLS Champions Toronto FC at BMO Field with the goal of keeping pace with MLS leading Atlanta United in mind.
A returning David Villa fired the opening salvo and gave City an early 1-0 advantage/ TFC’s Sebastian Giovinco evened it up midway through the first half, only for New York’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to put the Blues back up again minutes later. Toronto would even it up on a set-piece in the second half, only for Tajouri-Shradi to blast an absolute golazo from outside the box in the 88th to steal the win for NYCFC, putting them up to 47 points on the year — one off from Atlanta — and back ahead in the race for a spot in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.
On paper, that’s a pretty good story for New York City. But take into account that Toronto were down a man for most of the game after Jozy Altidore’s childish kick out on Alex Callens and the fact that the defending MLS champs are outside of the playoff hunt in 2018, then you start to feel a tad jaded about the result.
When up a man for over 80 minutes of the game — especially when the player sent off is an attacker — conceding one goal is puzzling enough. Conceding two is just an outright failure to properly play defense. NYCFC should have never been in a position where they had to rely upon late brilliance, if not sheer luck to steal three points.
Drawing Vancouver, a mediocre side at best, at home is bad enough for a team that is openly considered favorites to win the MLS Cup this year. Sneaking out a victory to a 10-man team that is, at the moment, 7 points out from the nearest playoff slot is borderline unacceptable from NYCFC. And with the scrappy Philadelphia Union and the always headache-inducing New York Red Bulls all up next, play like this won’t cut it.
Don’t get me wrong, manager Domé Torrent has done a fine job with the team since arriving in June to replace former gaffer Patrick Vieira and the team’s form has benefited from his vast experience in coaching in top leagues for top teams in the past. But I can’t help but feel that Torrent seems destined to repeat some of Vieira’s mistakes when it comes to personnel.
The biggest red flag for me this past Sunday was Sebastien Ibeagha getting the nod over Maxime Chanot. Ibeagha has been a solid backup for Chanot up until this point whenever the latter hasn’t been match fit. But if both are good to go, there is no reason Ibeagha should be playing over Chanot. While the Luxembourg international definitely doesn’t have the pace Ibeagha possesses, Chanot certainly has the edge when it comes to man marking and pure defensive abilities in comparison to his Nigerian-born counterpart.
Last, but certainly not least, how in the hell does Jonathan Lewis get dropped from the squad, but Rodney Wallace is able to maintain a spot on the bench? This has been a source of frustration for NYCFC fans since the beginning of this year. Look, I don’t doubt that Wallace is a nice guy who is respected and liked in the locker room by his teammates. I don’t even doubt that he has a talent that is viable in MLS. However, his performances over the last year or so have been lethargic or non-effective, whereas Lewis always seems to bring an edge to the attack whenever he is on the pitch.
I get that our newest pickup Valentin Castellanos is expected to be a very good player and can contribute immensely not just in 2018, but beyond if NYCFC purchase him following his loan’s expiration. But does this supposed revelation have to be at the expense of Lewis, who has done more than enough to prove his worth up to this point?
As we approach the backstretch of 2018 season, NYCFC is still a huge question mark in my eyes. While they are capable of tactical mastery and technical brilliance, they are just as capable of committing absolute calamities.