Meanwhile, up in northern California… NYCFC defeats San Jose 2-1

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Saturday, March 31st.  It was a day ripe with drama in Major League Soccer.  The state was California.  Two matches, hours apart at opposite ends of the state.  As if the day’s events were scripted. 

In the south, where celebrities and paparazzi are the blood that runs through its veins, one of the biggest personalities in soccer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his star-spangled, man-bunned debut for the LA Galaxy with the biggest bang possible.  You’ve seen the footage no doubt since Ibrahimovic’s debut basically broke Twitter for a few hours.  It definitely featured the largest lion tattoo in MLS history.

In the north country of San Jose, all signs were pointing towards a strong New York City Football Club lineup versus the San Jose Earthquakes until, dun, dun, dun, literally minutes before the game when captain David Villa was pulled from the lineup for a mysterious injury which occurred in the pre-game warm up.

This news was the cherry on top of the previous reports of defender Ben Sweat being too ill to play, Rodney Wallace being allowed extra rest from international duty, as well as continued absences of Alexander Ring and Ronald Matarrita due to injuries.  Will we ever have a full lineup? And why must we always learn about Villa’s absence in this manner? 

The lineup had some last minute changes and it did not start well for NYCFC with San Jose scoring off a corner kick in the 3rd minute.  Down 0-1 for the entire first half, NYCFC stayed patient and their chippy and hot first touches eventually calmed down.  By the 28th minute, they gained momentum by patiently keeping possession and carving out space for through passes and looking for the long crosses.  Opportunities were finding substitute striker Jo Inge Berget but he could not find the goal. 

Second half, Berget was moved left to make way for Jesus Medina to focus on the middle and for Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to move to the right flank.   At about 48:30, Maxi Moralez’s corner kick found Anton Tinnerholm who volleyed in a rocket to even out the score 1-1. 

Much is made of this beautiful shot but more credit should be given to Yangel Herrera, Ebenezer Ofori and Abdul-Salaam for keeping the defenders physically attached to them (and in Herrera’s case, being thrown to the ground), which allowed Tinnerholm to be open. And major kudos to Moralez’s brilliant vision of the situation and to his ability to give Tinnerholm a perfect ball.

The second NYCFC goal was orchestrated by Tajouri-Shradi who weaved through defenders on the right side, ultimately finding Moralez in the center to give NYCFC the 2-1 lead. 

San Jose pulled everyone up on attack whenever possible. The rest of the game belonged to goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who denied every scoring opportunity San Jose could muster. Tempers flared in the last quarter of the game about possession at the restart after a series of ugly collisions and injuries. 

After 7 plus minutes of stoppage time (aka FOREVER), when the referee finally blew the whistle, there were audible sighs of relief that the battle was over.  It was tough, gritty and physical but the beautiful moments were memorable. 

Players making 2018 debuts:

Cedric Hountondji

Gold medal for gymnastic prowess to Ebenezer Ofori for his painful looking front split.  (And for all that, he got a yellow card?)

Images courtesy: @NYCFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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