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Alexandru Mitrita’s late goal powers New York City FC past Colorado Rapids in 2-1 victory

A late spark off the bench gives City a much-needed win on the road

MLS: New York City FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC haven’t exactly had a great July. The Boys in Blue saw their 12-game unbeaten streak end at home against the Portland Timbers in a 1-0 defeat on July 7 before losing again on penalties to Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup just a few days later. To make matters worse, NYCFC would lose to the rival New York Red Bulls four days after that in controversial fashion.

Having lost their previous three matchups (all competitions), NYCFC was eager to get back on track against a lowly Colorado Rapids side on Sunday. But the Rapids had a plan — park the bus from the opening minute and try to grab a garbage goal on the counter in an effort to collect some much needed points. And initially, that game plan worked.

In just the 6th minute, former Pigeon Jonathan Lewis exacted some revenge on his old club. In a stunning display of ball control, Lewis breezed past center back Sebastien Ibeagha before reaching the byline and centering the ball past goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who was covering his near post. The ball went right into the path of Colorado homegrown Sebastian Anderson who slid it in to give the Rapids an early 1-0 advantage.

From there, though, it was all NYCFC as they would greedily possess the ball for most of the remaining match in an effort to outlast an overly defensive Rapids side desperate to hang on for dear life.

While Colorado did well to stifle any threats for most of the first half, they would be mortally injured in the 33rd minute when an ugly challenge from Anderson on Ronald Matarrita prompted referee Chris Penso to reach into his back pocket and show the 16-year-old a red card, giving NYCFC a one-man advantage for the remainder of the contest.

After that, City would get an equalizer and be put in the driver’s seat moving forward.

In the 40th minute, Maxi Moralez lofted a ball over the Colorado defense to Héber, who chested the ball down and smacked it past keeper Tim Howard on the full volley, leveling the game at 1-1 going into the half. This marked the Brazilian’s fifth goal in his last four games.

In the second half, despite the one-man advantage, NYCFC found it much harder to grab the leading goal. Colorado continued to put as many men as possible behind the play, forcing City to take low-percentage shots from distance. Whenever the Boys in Blue did get a good shot off, goalkeeper Clint Irwin — who replaced an apparently injured Howard late in the first half — stepped up to deny their attempts on goal.

NYCFC would seemingly have a breakthrough in the 73rd minute. After a nice touch around a Rapids defender, Keaton Parks laced a shot that was parried by Irwin. Always the opportunist, Héber was lying in wait at the far side with an open goal for a possible game-winning goal. Unfortunately, the Brazilian uncharacteristically shanked his followup attempt, keeping the game tied.

But New York City would not be denied of three points when in the 83rd minute, Alexandru Mitrita — off the bench and returning from injury — following cracked the code.

With an extraordinary amount of players forward, Moralez attempted to play Matarrita in behind on a lobbed ball. The pass was initially dealt with by defender Lalas Abubakar, but the clearance landed right at the feet of Mitrita. The Romanian took one touch, patiently lined up his shot, and curled it past Irwin at the near post, giving NYCFC a 2-1 lead with what would eventually be their game-winning goal.

The narrow victory puts NYCFC up to 4th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind the leading Philadelphia Union with four games in hand.

Next up: NYCFC returns to the Bronx to take on Sporting Kansas City in a key summer matchup as they continue their attempted climb to the top of the Eastern Conference.