With each passing game, we get closer and closer to the MLS Cup Playoffs. And with a new single-game elimination format, finishing in the top spot in the conference has never been more important. New York City FC know this. And with the Philadelphia Union and Atlanta United still hot on their heels, results in their last handful of games are more precious than gold.
On an early Saturday afternoon, NYCFC hosted a tricky inter-conference matchup against the San Jose Earthquakes. Tasked with silencing all-time MLS leading goalscorer Chris Wondolowski, as well as playing without star midfielder Maxi Moralez on just three days of rest, the Blues had their work cut out for them in what had the makings of a classic trap game.
Despite conceding the game’s first goal, a late first half rally saw NYCFC through to the finish line in a key 2-1 victory over the Quakes.
The visiting Earthquakes would strike first in the 20th minute. After receiving the ball on the wide right, Vlako Qazaishvili centered the ball for Chris Wondolowski who toe poked the ball past Sean Johnson to give the Quakes an early lead.
City’s Gary Mackay-Steven would nearly level the game just a few minutes later on a set piece. The Scottish winger would elect to play a short corner to Alexander Ring at the top of the box, who then returned the ball to Mackay-Steven. NYCFC’s newest pickup then cut to the middle of the box where he would fire an attempt at goal. Despite the ball caroming off of defender Guram Kashia’s head before striking the crossbar, referee Rubiel Vazquez did not award the Blues another corner and instead signaled for a goal kick.
At this point, San Jose were in complete control of the game and were dictating the pace of play. But after making some much needed adjustments and growing into the game, NYCFC would respond with gusto.
In the 40th minute, Keaton Parks would intercept a throw-in before spurring a counter-attack. After carrying the ball himself most of the way, the American midfielder found an unmarked Mackay-Steven creeping into the box from the left flank, giving the Scotsman a clear shot at goal. Despite San Jose goalkeeper Daniel Vega making a big save on Mackay-Steven’s initial attempt, Parks muscled his way to the rebound and was able to tap the ball into the open net, giving him his first career MLS goal and leveling the game 1-1.
And just three minutes later, City would pull ahead.
Following a throw-in, the returning Ismael Tajouri-Shradi would lace an inch-perfect pass into the path of Alexandru Mitrita. The Romanian was able to shed his marker before curling his shot past a helpless Vega into the bottom corner, putting NYCFC up 2-1 going into the half.
When play resumed in the second half, Sean Johnson was forced into two big stops — a near-post save just a minute in, and then a huge heads-up stop on the ensuing corner kick.
NYCFC almost added to their lead in the 65th minute when Alexander Ring had an opportunity in the box. Despite Ring’s shot going through Vega’s five-hole, the Argentinian keeper got enough of a touch on the ball to slow it down and allow defender Judson to clear it out of danger.
From that point on, City would have several opportunities to effectively put the game out of reach — all of them came just short. But their two goals late in the first half ultimately proved to be enough to see NYCFC through to a 2-1 win in their penultimate home game of the 2019 season.
Elsewhere, Atlanta United suffered a shock 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew at home while the Philadelphia Union were only able to get a draw against LAFC at Talon Energy Stadium, giving NYCFC a 5-point lead in the Eastern Conference and some breathing room.