By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith
This week once again proved that anything is possible in MLS as Sporting Kansas City lost to San Jose and LAFC lost to Vancouver. Continuing in this parallel universe of football, New York City Football Club bested the current top team in the Eastern Conference, DC United. The win was in DC and with Wayne Rooney fully fit. Many would never have predicted this outcome but it could be due to the learned helplessness taking over the collective NYC fan psyche. I mean the thinking was, If City can’t even win at home, how will they win on the road?
How did NYCFC pull off this modern day Easter miracle? Many signs point to the debut of City’s new number 9, Héber, who made his first start of the season. Immediately there were signs of chemistry amongst him, new 2019 Designated Player Alexandru Mitrita and the team’s midfield backbone, Maxi Moralez. In a post-match interview Héber compared the style of NYCFC and MLS in general as “tactical” football with more experienced players, while the Croatian league he previously played for was “faster” with younger players.
I read into this as MLS being a more thoughtful and building style of play that stresses keeping possession while patiently moving players around to find the open space. Furthermore, his experience playing with a faster pace means he’s accustomed to opponents being all over him so he can make quick and accurate attacking decisions with limited space. This was fully demonstrated first in his assist to Alexandru Mitrita’s goal in the 35th minute and again in his own finish in the 56th.
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) April 21, 2019
It felt like NYCFC had the majority of the possession even though they only had 46%. Maxi Moralez had the chance to make the game 2-0 before the end of the first half on an awarded penalty kick, but his strike hit the post. It is doubtful that the tide of opinion will change any time soon on Coach Dome Torrent, but I do think that the decision to play Ronald Matarrita at left back was the right one as he generates offense out of the back with his pace, energy and overall chemistry with the midfield.
Anton Tinnerholm and Matarrita both enjoy generating and building attacking sequences down the flanks via overlapping runs. James Sands was again Mr Reliable throughout the game applying pressure and stopping most of DC United’s attempts at a counter attack. It was a happy surprise that goalkeeper Sean Johnson had little to do in this match. Although he did have one particularly nice save of a Rooney shot to keep the lead.
A busy week continues with a must-win versus Chicago Fire on Wednesday and a tough test versus a surprisingly in-form Orlando City team on Saturday. Rumors of injuries to several key players make this period even more challenging.
Featured image: @NYCFC on Twitter
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