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NYCFC in control, defeat Montréal 4-1 on a cold, wet day in the Bronx

A big win, a small banner, and a Talles Magno header so powerful it put three Montréal players on the ground

CF Montreal v New York City FC
It’s polite to thank the player who made the assist.
Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

New York City FC played in the Bronx for the first time last year, defeating CF Montréal 4-1 in a comfortable win on Matchday 3. It wasn’t just City’s first win of the 2022 MLS season, it was the first time the team found the back of the net in a league game.

NYCFC Game Stats: 13 shots, 7 shots on target, 51.4% possession, 456 passes, 78.5% pass accuracy

NYCFC were in control from the opening whistle, dominating the run of play within the cozy confines of Yankee Soccer Stadium—now home to what is surely the smallest championship banner outside of middle school intramural sports.

Alexander Callens lashed in the opening goal in the 7th minute—the center-back not only scored City’s first MLS goal in 2022, he buried the final shot in the championship-winning 2021 season. Thirteen minutes later NYCFC forced a turnover at the top of Montréal’s box, where Santiago Rodríguez lifted a delicious chip that arced over hapless goalkeeper Sebastian Breza. NYCFC 2, Montréal 0.

Montréal started the second half on the front foot, with Zachary Brault-Guillard knocking in Dorde Mihailović’s goalmouth cross in the 52nd minute. But NYCFC kept their composure and regained control of the game. Talles Magno nodded in a cross from Andres Jasson in the 64th minute, further making the case that he’s ready to take over the role of the franchise player. Then Thiago put on a bow on the win with a beautiful individual effort in the 83rd minute: The 21-year-old dispossessed Canada international Kamal Miller, carried the ball inside the box, then crossed up the goalkeeper and slotted his shot just inside the far post.

It feels good to be home.

About those numbers

NYCFC might have controlled most of the game played on the field, but the numbers suggest the contest was closer than it seemed. A young and untested Montréal squad managed to take 13 shots, earn 11 corners, and came close to matching NYCFC in possession and passing. If Montréal was a little more ruthless in front of goal, NYCFC could have been in trouble.

The g+ GameFlow statistics show that NYCFC over-performed their xG, while Montréal under-performed theirs.

That discrepancy in NYCFC’s favor isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Last year, NYCFC was often the better team if you went by the numbers, but they let wins slip into draws and draws into losses. We’ll take the 4-1 dominating win that was statistically close on paper.

Bounce back-ability

You can follow Montréal’s post-halftime surge on the g+ GameFlow timeline: They almost completely dominated play for fully the first fifteen minutes of the second half. Montréal scored one goal in that time, and could have had another.

NYCFC’s gritty response to the pressure was maybe the most promising part of the game. Rather than fold under the pressure from Montréal, City regained their shape and kept possession. Then they gave the home crowd what they came for with a run of play straight from the training ground: An Alfredo Morales square pass to Keaton Parks, a simple forward pass to Rodríguez, another simple forward pass to Jasson, a whipped cross into the box, and a perfectly-timed Talles Magno run that ended with a forceful headed goal directly in front of the keeper—it was the soccer equivalent of the in-your-face dunk.

The whole sequence takes 10 seconds to unfold, and it looks about as dangerous as a donut until Talles Magno knocks in a header so powerful that it puts three Montréal players on the ground. It was as good a response to allowing the other team score as any.

Tactical substitutions

Just like in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Comunicaciones FC, manager Ronny Delia made timely substitutions that changed the tone of the game. Delia brought in Nicolás Acevedo for Keaton Parks, and Thiago for Rodriguez in the 65th minute. Later, he brought on Héber for Maxi Moralez. Was NYCFC really playing with two strikers and two attacking midfielders? The Hollywood haircut Delia got when the team was on the road must have gone to his head.

The moves paid off. One minute after Héber took the field Thiago scored his solo goal, sealing the win and causing tens of millions of Quebecois to slump in their chairs and cry into their poutines.

Delia made the substitutions to help rotate a squad playing on short rest, and that has another rough week ahead—City will travel to Guatemala City to play the second leg of the Comunicaciones matchup in three days on Tuesday, March 15. But the pragmatic decision to help keep NYCFC’s legs fresh gives different players more game time to develop the chemistry that is so important to a championship team.

Just as significant, it forced the other team to adjust to the changes City made. When NYCFC faced Montréal on July 7, 2021, Deila didn’t make significant substitutions until the 81st and 82nd minute. By that time NYCFC were chasing a game they went on to lose 2-1. It was too little, too late.

Earlier today, the substitutions Delia made were a chef’s kiss of tactical changes that closed out the win. If you have the deepest bench in MLS, you might as well use it.