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How officiating undid NYCFC

One New York City goal was whistled off, another gifted to Cincinnati via a VAR-induced penalty.

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In an intense and physical match filled with VAR-fueled controversy, high-flying FC Cincinnati dispatched New York City FC on their home turf. Now winless in their last six games in all competitions, NYCFC draw ever closer to a breaking point.

Controversy plays into hands of visitors

Two wonder strikes and a VAR-awarded penalty were enough for FC Cincinnati to get the job done, as head coach Nick Cushing’s men look more and more disenfranchised as the season continues.

NYCFC seemed to have gotten their act together early on, as an impressive run of play was capped off by a fabulous Gabriel Pereira volley to take the lead in the 29th minute. But just as the Brazilian winger’s shot rippled the back of the net, so did the whistle blow of referee Armando Villarreal. The lead official called back the strike after deeming striker Gabriel Segal to have committed a foul in the buildup. 

Upon further review by fans and media members alike, slow-motion video of the supposed foul showed that there was little contact between Segal and FC Cincinnati defender Yerson Mosquera. Nevertheless, because Villarreal blew the play dead before the goal was scored, the foul was unable to be reviewed by the video assistant referee.

Buzz kill

The goal would’ve given the hosts much-needed momentum against an immense opponent. But the Villarreal call took the wind out of their sails completely. Not 10 minutes after conceding the now-disallowed goal, FC Cincinnati were able to weave and pry their way through a sea of blue shirts, before Luciano Acosta sent a wonder strike curling into the top corner.

It seemed as if the NYCFC defenders were stuck in a daze, as no one in blue attempted to shut down the first ball. Others left Acosta completely unmarked at the edge of the box. Whether it was because of the physicality of the visitors – or not wanting to be booked by Villarreal – the NYCFC defense didn’t look sharp for the rest of the game.

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In the second half, a free kick from midfielder Alvaro Barreal, dipped in just under the crossbar to put Cincinnati up 2-0 with 30 minutes left to play. It was a beautiful strike, and the latest example of NYCFC not defending set pieces adequately.

In the minutes following, however, NYCFC would go on the attack. Spurred on by veteran midfielder Alfredo Morales, who was subbed on following Barreal’s free kick, NYCFC was able to regain a foothold in the match. Morales, showing off impressive skill, sent an outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Braian Cufre was able to jump highest and drive it into the bottom corner. It was the response fans of the Sky Blues had been longing for all season.

VAR drama

Despite NYCFC gaining a lifeline, the drama would return for a final act. Mere moments after Cufre’s goal gave NYCFC fans hope, Villarreal took part in a lengthy VAR review of a clash between New York City defender Tony Alfaro and Cincinnati defender Yerson Mosquera inside the box. This was the second questionable decision made by Villarreal on fouls against Mosquera.

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Though many may debate whether the contact made by Alfaro justified a penalty, Villarreal pointed to the spot, awarding the penalty that all but sealed a fifth straight win for FC Cincinnati.

With the match in the rearview mirror, NYCFC will feel hard done by the officiating crew working Wednesday night’s game. The hosts were shown eight yellow cards – three of them for dissent, and one of those was for Cushing – but just the four shown to Cincinnati. Furthermore, NYCFC was whistled for 12 fouls, versus the 17 given to Cincinnati. It was a more physical contest than usual, NYCFC gained no favors from the referee.