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Santi Rodríguez the star as NYCFC blanks DC United

Rodríguez celebrated his 100th MLS appearance for New York City FC by scoring and assisting to help orchestrate a 2-0 win at Citi Field.

Four goals scored for Santi in 2024. Photo: New York City FC.

It was a celebratory night at Citi Field for New York City FC.

Santiago Rodríguez celebrated his 100th MLS appearance for New York City by scoring the opening goal and assisting on the second goal in the team's 2-0 victory over DC United in front of an announced crowd of 21,073.

That crowd also got to celebrate the conclusion of NYCFC's over-a-decade soccer stadium search, with Mayor Eric Adams on hand and on the field before the match to cheer on the redevelopment of Willets Point, Queens that includes a 25,000-seat arena for the team and recently received its final necessary approval from the City Council.

One person not celebrating: DC's star striker Christian Benteke, who entered the match in Queens atop many a statistical leaderboard, but was held off the scoresheet and held in check by Thiago Martins, Birk Risa, and the rest of New York City's defense.


New York City: 22 shots, 8 shots on target, 49.4% possession, 363 passes, 77.7% pass accuracy, 11 fouls, 1 save

DC United: 11 shots, 1 shot on target, 50.6% possession, 396 passes, 76.3% pass accuracy, 14 fouls, 6 saves

• New York City, Santiago Rodríguez, 20'
• New York City, Julián Fernández, 90'+1'

Attendance: 21,073

Fast starters

New York City got off to one of its fastest starts of the season against DC, in control and with momentum well in hand in the opening 30 minutes played at Citi Field.

The hosts put four shots on target in that first half-hour, with a breakthrough goal eventually arriving on the counter, with Santiago Rodríguez notching a fourth goal of the season to cap off a lethal counterattack in the 20th minute.

Hannes Wolf and Mounsef Bakrar each helped make this goal happen, with Wolf picking up his first assist since signing with NYCFC.

The new attacking additions have started to chip in with goals and assists over the last two weeks, but all season long, New York City's most consistent attacker and goal-scorer has remained Santi Rodríguez.

Santi was the main reason New York City started strong and stayed on the front foot for the bulk of its win vs. DC.

The Uruguayan Designated Player completed the most dribbles in the match with eight, created four chances, and completed 88% of his passes while also playing eight successful passes into the final attacking third, all per FotMob.

g+ GameFlow

Defense delivers

DC's attack looked formidable entering this match, statistically one of the best and most dangerous in MLS through eight matches.

That attack might have struggled due to the absence of a key player like midfielder Mateusz Klich, but it also struggled against an in-form New York City defense.

Christian Benteke was the target for much of DC's attacking play on the night, yet the Belgian was quiet. He still won a match-high 13 aerial duels, but Benteke only mustered two shots and neither was on target.

In the New York City goal, Matt Freese only had to make one save after averaging over five saves in each of his previous four matches. This was a clean sheet earned less by Freese heroics, earned more by NYCFC's collective strength in denying DC United good scoring chances—and especially in shutting down Benteke, which Thiago Martins reflected on in post-match comments he shared with HRB following the win.

Bakrar keeps Bakrar-ing

While other non-Santi Rodríguez members of the NYCFC attack have started chipping in with goal contributions in the last two weeks, striker Mounsef Bakrar continues to go through a freezing-cold spell.

Bakrar was again held without a goal, his season-long scoring drought extending to a ninth match. He helped in the build-up to the opening Santi goal, but didn't earn a goal or assist for himself for a 12th straight competitive NYCFC match dating back to September 2023.

The Algerian striker was credited with five shots, but let his best, most obvious scoring chance go to waste. That came in the 75th minute, shortly before Bakrar was replaced by substitute Jovan Mijatović.

NYCFC got out quickly on the counter and had DC United on its heels, Hannes Wolf played a low cross right into Bakrar's path, and the striker had as clean of a look at goal as you can get:

Still of Bakrar's 75th-minute shot, which went wide of goal.

That shot you see being taken above, it rolled well wide of the DC goal, another miss in what's become a season of misses for Bakrar. The striker was out of the game shortly afterward, spotted by the Apple broadcast seated on the NYCFC bench with head in hands, looking inconsolable.

HRB executive editor Oliver Strand detailed The Bakrar Paradox shortly before this meeting with DC: The striker still does many other things exceptionally well and is among the best in MLS according to many key metrics — except for goals scored.

The wait goes on for Bakrar to break his streak of futility in front of goal, but the sense of urgency might be intensifying, as Mijatović made his long-awaited return from work visa purgatory, playing the final 20 minutes as a sub. With the prized 18-year-old back in the United States and available for selection, Bakrar might start running out of chances.

Winning formula emerging?

The win over DC shared similarities with the 2-0 victory over New England Revolution a week ago at Yankee Soccer Stadium, notable among them, Julián Fernández coming on as a second-half substitute to score a second, win-clinching goal in stoppage time.

The clean sheet and neutralization of DC's press and attack laid the foundation for New York City, while a performance like Santi's created the two goals necessary to secure the three points.

The defense was a team strength late last season, and goal prevention again looks like something at which NYCFC excels in 2024. DC was held to just 0.62 expected goals (xG), with New York City impenetrable at home and able to extend its unbeaten run to four straight matches.

A formula that sees New York City remaining stout in defense, while also getting impactful attacking performances from one or more of its regular starters up front—against DC that meant Santi, Wolf, and Fernández—could be enough to help Nick Cushing's team climb its way up the Eastern Conference table.

How far up the table can this team go? New York City is much closer to the MLS Cup Playoff qualification line now after nine matches played than it was after beginning the season with four losses in the first five games. The challenge now becomes making these performances the norm and not occasional bright spots.

• DC United, Matai Akinmboni, yellow card, foul, 34'
• DC United, Lucas Bartlett, yellow card, foul, 50'
• New York City, Mounsef Bakrar, yellow card, time-wasting, 63'

• Referee: Malik Badawi
• Assistant referees: Matthew Nelson, Jeffrey Swartzel
• Fourth official: Thomas Snyder
• VAR: Kevin Stott
• Assistant VAR: Fabio Tovar