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New York City 5, San Carlos 3: Héber’s hat trick guides City in wild CCL debut

NYCFC survives late surge to put themselves in fine form going into their home leg

FBL-CONCACAF-SANCARLOS-NYC Photo by EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP via Getty Images

It’s official — the Ronny Deila Era has begun! And if last night was anything to go by, it’s set to be a sweet one.

In their CONCACAF Champions League debut, New York City FC descended upon Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in Costa Rica to take on fellow debutantes AD San Carlos. The ensuing match defied pretty much any expectation one could’ve had, ending in a dramatic 5-3 win for NYCFC. And though it wasn’t perfect by any means, City’s first competitive game of the season should ignite positive reactions from its supporters.

The Boys in Blue — missing Ismael Tajouri-Shradi due to fitness issues — lined up as follows:

GK: Sean Johnson

DEF: Anton Tinnerholm, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Ronald Matarrita

MID: James Sands, Alexander Ring, Keaton Parks

FWD: Jesus Medina, Alexandru Mitrita, Héber

First Half

NYCFC got off to a cracking start by applying pressure on San Carlos’ back line from the onset. Early on, Jesus Medina had an opportunity at goal, but would be denied by opposing keeper Pemberton from point blank range. Alexander Ring would have an opportunity of his own in the 4th minute, but his shot would also be saved. Keaton Parks was there on the rebound, but his follow-up went well above the target.

But City wouldn’t wait long for the opening tally.

In the 12th minute, left back Ronald Matarrita would slip a pass behind the Northern Bulls’ backline where Héber lay in wait. A nifty redirecting touch would slot the ball through at the near post, giving NYCFC an early 1-0 advantage.

From there, NYCFC would remain the aggressor with tantalizing chances throughout, including a near-stunner from Medina that curled just over the crossbar.

The Blues would extend their lead in the 35th minute when right back Anton Tinnerholm — in a play reminiscent of Matarrita’s assist from the opposite flank — found Héber in the center of the box. The Brazilian once again capped it off with a one-touch finish to give NYCFC a commanding 2-0 lead.

Despite the strong start, City would give up one going into the half when San Carlos’ Jorman Aguilar would missile a shot past goalkeeper Sean Johnson giving the team a much-needed lifeline heading into the second half.

Second Half

Despite conceding a late goal to finish the first half, NYCFC would resume their offensive onslaught in the second half, only needing seven minutes to bag another tally.

In a chaotic sequence that saw multiple shots from City, the ref pointed to the penalty spot after he ruled that the ball had struck a San Carlos defender’s arm in the box. To put the finishing touches on a near-perfect night for the center forward, none other than Héber would step up to take the spot kick. The No. 9 buried his penalty to the left, giving him a hat trick and allowing NYCFC to regain a two-goal advantage at 3-1.

The Bronx Blues would continue to pour it on just ten minutes later when a wide free kick found center back Alex Callens who slid into a shot to put NYCFC up 4-1, giving them a dominant three-goal lead and their fourth away goal.

Shortly after this goal, manager Ronny Deila rotated the squad by using all three of his substitutions, bringing on Maxi Moralez, Taty Castellanos, and Joe Scally.

City were due for some stress after a 63rd-minute header by Marcos Mena and a 78th-minute banger from Omar Browne brought the game to 4-3. But NYCFC would not be denied the road win.

In the 90th minute, Moralez was brought down in the box by an ugly tackle, forcing the referee to point to the spot for the second time in NYCFC’s favor. Moralez stepped up to the spot for PK, but was denied by Pemberton. Fortunately, Alexandru Mitrita was there to tap the ball home to punctuate a glorious 5-3 win for New York City in their CCL debut.

Next up: NYCFC travel to Red Bull Arena in New Jersey to do the “home” leg of their CCL tie with San Carlos on Wednesday, February 26.