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NYCFC finds beauty in winning ugly

What could have been a frustrating "trap game" vs a New England team with the worst record in MLS instead became another example of how New York City FC has improved their mentality and resiliency since last season.

© Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

It took a veteran, professional, resilient, at times ugly performance for New York City FC to beat the New England Revolution 1-0 at Gillette Stadium, earning a fourth straight win.

It wasn't a signature victory, or anything close to a memorable or complete game for Nick Cushing's team, but it was the type of win the 2023 version of the squad would have seemed unlikely to pull off.

Last year's team labored through their away matches, struggled to create or finish chances to punish the home team, and often settled for uninspiring draws or deflating defeats. They were prone to a costly mistake that guaranteed they didn't return to New York City with all, or in many cases any, points.

The match at Gillette resembled one of those familiar old NYCFC road struggles for much of the 90 minutes. A bright first ten minutes for the visitors gave way to a match that looked destined for either a late disappointment for the away team or a shrug-of-the-shoulders scoreless draw.

New York City FC 0 - 1 New England: Rate the players
NYCFC win a third consecutive road game for the first time since 2019.

This 2024 team continues to show the ways it has improved on the 2023 version, and the performance in New England was perhaps the biggest sign yet of the mental and stylistic improvements NYCFC has undergone.

It wasn't just that the 2024 team held on to its road clean sheet behind another seven-save Matt Freese performance in goal, or that the team found a winning goal late in the second half from a Tayvon Gray-Keaton Parks link-up.

This New York City FC overcame the disappointment of squandering a few of its better scoring chances, like when Agustín Ojeda put a shot from point-blank range straight into a defender after 30 seconds of the match, or when Hannes Wolf dragged a shot wide in the 79th minute after a promising-looking counter.

This version of Cushing's team also remained mistake-free defensively, in goal, on set pieces, in all facets to earn a third straight win on the road in league play for the first time since 2019.

That's despite being under lots of pressure from New England at many points in the match, a sign that the 2024 NYCFC can still win without having all the possession (New England did, 57.3% to 42.7%) or dictating the flow of a game.

The trip north to face the Revs could have been a "trap game," coming against a team that's currently down bad, buried at the bottom of the Supporters' Shield table. The visit to Foxboro also came after New York City's three-wins-in-three-matches rivalry week that was full of emotional highs and grueling, close games.

New England was also desperate for a positive result at home and hanging onto the hope that having wide attackers Tomás Chancalay and Dylan Borrero available alongside central playmaker Carles Gil and striker Giacomo Vrioni would help them turn a corner and improve on their bottom-of-the-table start to the season.

A final cherry atop the sundae of hurdles facing New York City at Gillette Stadium was the referee, who happened to be Ted Unkel. Unkel is someone who stands out from the crowd of other MLS match officials due to his penchant to bring controversy along with him. This is an official who managed to draw criticism from Wayne Rooney for his handling of the meaningless MLS All-Star Game.

Unkel did have an outsized role a few times during the match at Gillette, handing out five yellow cards and whistling for 27 fouls. New England applied pressure all night and forced Matt Freese to make some tough saves, and the ref was a mixed bag, but New York City did what was necessary to remain in control and found one moment to get the goal it needed to get maximum points.

Winning ugly and when facing adversity away from home hasn't been a common occurrence for New York City, but it's another sign of a corner turned for this year's team.