Funny what a 3-0 final score will do to your short-term memory.
Earlier today in the Bronx, New York City FC glided to an empathic victory over Western Conference punching bag San Jose Earthquakes, but only after lurching through a frustrating first half in which NYCFC struggled to create chances against the leakiest defense in MLS. The team’s saviors came from the bench: Second-half substitutes Maxi Moralez and Gabriel Pereira transformed a disjointed and wasteful NYCFC into a ruthless goal-scoring enterprise that lashed three past hapless San Jose goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski inside of 15 minutes. NYCFC could easily have scored more if the spirit of Chris Wondolowski (who isn’t dead) hadn't been prowling the goal lines.
Those of us who believe the cup is half-full will say that great teams find a way to win even when things are a little off: New York City didn't just get the job done, they added to their goal tally. After enduring a rough start to the season, NYCFC have scored more goals than any team in the Eastern Conference, and have the third-best goal differential in all of MLS.
Those of us who believe the cup is half-empty will say that a suspect defense was lucky to escape with a clean sheet, and that less inept teams will punish NYCFC for missing chances that could have put the game away long before the cavalry rode in to save the day.
NYCFC: 23 shots, 9 on goal, 54.6% possession, 477 passes, 88% pass accuracy
San Jose Earthquakes: 11 shots, 3 on goal, 45.4% possession, 391 passes, 80.3% pass accuracy
There are some aspects of a game that aren’t counted in the stats log and don’t make it on the highlights. Such as: Teammates bickering after a sloppy play that could have let the other side score.
While it was reassuring to see center back Thiago Martins on the field and Maxime Chanot on the bench after injuries forced Alfredo Morales to play out of position and put in a defensive shift in last week’s 5-4 win over Toronto FC, NYCFC’s backline doesn't look completely comfortable playing together. Martins and right-back Trayvon Gray don’t always act like they’re reading from the same playbook, and the two were often shouting and gesturing at each other earlier today. Body language don’t lie.
At times it felt like watching a family one week into a beach vacation ruined by rain: Issues that shouldn’t matter, or that should quietly be addressed and fixed, were being aired in front of everybody. NYCFC logged a shutout, but it was as much because of a toothless San Jose attack as the New York City defense protecting the box.
Last year, the pundits wanted manager Ronny Deila to make more substitutions: The NYCFC faithful called on him to be proactive and change games by bringing on transformative players early enough to make a difference. Clearly, Deila has been paying attention to Twitter, because his substitutions today were a chef’s kiss of the right players brought in at the right time.
To put it simply, the game changed when Moralez and Pereira replaced Nicolás Acevedo and Thiago in the 65th minute. Moralez was back after fracturing his ribs in training more than three weeks ago, and even if the aging playmaker isn’t as dynamic as he once was, his ability to control the pace of the game is unmatched in MLS. He can slow down time and make the other team follow his tempo, then speed up and catch them flat-footed. It’s a pleasure to watch a maestro such as Moralez at work.
For his part, Pereira has impressed since he joined in late March. The 20-year-old right-winger has slotted seamlessly into the squad, balancing out an attack heavy on players who like to roam on the left. Pereira isn't flashy, but his quality elevates the play on the field, and his consistency is a significant upgrade over the streaky Jesús Medina.
Pereira will likely make it into the Starting XI this season, but you can see why Deila is exclusively using him as a sub capable of changing a game: Just when the opposition has grown comfortable parrying attacks from the left and down the middle, Pereira comes on and opens a third front on the right, stretching a defense that had become compact and disorienting a goalkeeper who had become accustomed to tracking Taty Castellanos and Talles Magno on the left.
Eight minutes after coming on, Keaton Parks knocked in a goal—his second in two games. Four minutes after that, Pereira followed suit, curling a leg-footed shot around three San Jose defenders and the goalkeeper. Pereira has two goals in four games for NYCFC—he scored two goals in 47 appearances for Corinthians.
Nicely done, Chris Gloster
NYCFC’s third goal came from substitute Chris Gloster, who replaced injured left-back Malte Amundsen in the 56th minute. Gloster has put in some iffy performances this season, but he was impressive today. Not only did he mark out Cristian Espinoza, neutralizing San Jose’s greatest scoring threat, he scored a goal of his own in the 88th minute, sealing NYCFC’s win.
It was Gloster’s first goal in MLS, and it was a beaut: An arcing Moralez switch of play, a pacy first touch that let him fly up the left, a low shot inside the near post that beat the goalkeeper who you could see hesitate when he expected the ball to be passed to Talles Magno on the other side of the box.
You could see a hint of disappointment in Talles Magno — he wanted the ball, and the goal. But it was all smiles for the NYCFC players on the field. The bickering was forgotten, as were the missed sitters, the Wondo’d balls. It’s hard to be worried after goals like these, or when your glass is half-full.
NYCFC, Keaton Parks 74’
NYCFC, Gabriel Pereira 78’
NYCFC, Chris Gloster 88’
Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr
Assistant Referee: Matthew Nelson, Brooke Mayo
Fourth Official: will be Elijio Arreguin
VAR Referees: Jair Marrufo
Assistant VAR Referee: Claudiu Badea