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Instant Reaction: A need for speed

New York City can display a frustrating lack of urgency.

New York City FC forward Malachi Jones looked promising in his MLS debut | New York City FC

Luciano Acosta never stopped running.

The FC Cincinnati playmaker ran hard at the New York City FC defense the entire first half, creating confusion in the box and keeping the visitors on edge. He scored the only goal of the game when he went from a dead stop to a full-on sprint — and split New York City's defenders with an elegant dummy. He earned his Player of the Match honors.

Acosta kept running hard at NYCFC. There he was at the beginning of the second half, getting his team back into it when New York City were getting better looks. He was running hard in the 97th minute, when a more free-flowing NYCFC attack were threatening to find an equalizer. And he was running hard in the 101st minute, when New York City defender Strahinja Tanasijević was one shoulder seam away from being called for a hand ball that would have awarded a penalty to Cincinnati.

There was no Acosta counterpart on the New York City squad, at least not in a starting lineup missing nine players due to international call-ups, injuries, and one iffy red card. Hannes Wolf had a hard time connecting with the rest of the attack, and Julian Fernandez was dangerous in flashes, flat in others. Statistically, Santiago Rodríguez was Acosta's equal, but you couldn't see that on the field. The New York City attack once again looked deliberate and static, with Rodríguez and the others holding a position and wanting the ball at their feet rather than stretching the Cincinnati defense and creating space.

It was as if NYCFC's attacks were a series of set plays, dead balls that happened to be moving. Cincinnati's were aggressive, physical, and chaotic.

That is, until an injury to Kevin O'Toole forced head coach Nick Cushing to bring on forward Malachi Jones. It was the MLS debut for the 20-year-old SuperDraft first-round pick – he wore the little patch to prove it – and he brought some pace to an attack that had mostly looked flat.

If you go by the numbers, Jones didn't do much: He played for 23 minutes, won just one ground duel, and had one successful dribble. He din't create a chance, or take a shot. But he was everywhere, harassing the defenders one moment and running back to recover the ball the next. He sprinted along the left flank, hair flying, then floated into the center to create an overload. He brought an energy to New York City that the team were missing — and that Acosta provided Cincinnati throughout the game until the final whistle.

Two weeks ago, a confident and technical NYCFC scored early in the first half against a Portland Timbers that stormed back to win the game at the death. It wasn't that NYCFC were bad, it was that Portland wanted it more. We wrote in these pages that 37-year-old Portland midfielder Diego Chará outplayed every New York City player on the field: "Chará had more touches (68), passes (50), and tackles (3) than any New York City player. He won more ground duels (7) and had a higher pass accuracy rate (91%) than anybody on the field." He didn't score or provide an assist, but he was the engine of his team's late win.

We saw something similar happen tonight. Acosta was the engine for Cincinnati, and scored the only goal as well. That's how you win games.

It helps to have a player like that on your team.