Category Archives: Eastern Conference

Eastern Conference

Home Sweet Home for New York Red Bulls

Official NY Red Bulls Reporter

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Saturday, March 16: 4-1 Win

Ah, Spring. When young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of MLS. At least, we hope so. It was still rather chilly, but a bright sunny afternoon welcomed fans old and new to Red Bull Arena. The home match against the San Jose Earthquakes happens every other year, and new Quakes coach Matias Almeyda is looking to bring his team into the playoff conversation.

You know I’m a dreamer: This is already Matchday 3. The season is well on its way, with all its narratives being formed and tweaked. The Red Bulls have lived and learned with two home games in their latest attempt at the CONCACAF Champions League. But the league home opener is a special moment. A halftime ceremony celebrated the 2018 Supporter’s Shield, as well as the team’s previous two, which are all immortalized on the building itself. Recently retired former Red Bull Mike Grella was invited to hold up the 2015 Shield at the ceremony. Confetti-filled posters of the players from Decision Day 2018 were distributed to fans following the match.

RBNY supporters group, Vikings Army, display an “Unfinished Business” tifo at the home opener. Photo by Sylvana Budeshelm

Sometimes nothing keeps me together: The game itself didn’t look so good at the start. The Red Bulls were unsettled throughout the first half. The high press Red Bull thrives on was keeping them on the attack, but no one could find the back of the net. At the same time, the Earthquakes looked threatening after every turnover. Just five minutes into the match, Christian Espinoza sent a low shot past Luis Robles. Then, around the thirty-minute mark, a rough challenge sent midfielder Florian Valot to ground. With a scream. And anyone who saw and heard knew. The player who lost most of last season to a tear in his left ACL confirmed a few days after the game that he tore his right ACL. He bounced back once, and fans are confident he can do it again.

I’m on my way: In the 34th minute, homegrown Alex Muyl entered the pitch for Valot. While he had two off-target shots leading up to the halftime whistle, it was clear he was knocking on the door. But that happens a lot, and not just to Muyl. The entire first half was rife with missed opportunities. Kyle Duncan, who had done great work in the back line until the game against San Jose, scrambled for the first half but finally found his bearings in the second. It was time for RBNY to show what they were made of.

Just set me free: If you’re reading this, and you didn’t come to the game because some other commitment was going to have you missing the first half, let me tell you right now: the second half alone was worth the price of admission. Not one, but two goals from Alex Muyl, the first goal of the season for striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, and the final dagger from Daniel Royer.

Take me to your heart: Almost as soon as Wright-Phillips scored, he was substituted. In his place came Mathias Jorgensen, the eighteen-year-old Danish international who was the marquee signing of the Red Bulls’ off-season. And while he didn’t score a hat-trick right out of the gate, coach Chris Armas was happy with what he saw: “He almost scored. It’s right there for him.”

Whether he starts the next match, replaces Wright-Phillips earlier, or plays alongside him remains to be seen. But like many of the players on the roster, it’s about more than what fans see on gameday. “But if you got to know him a little bit the way we do, what a humble, hard-working team guy, and he fought hard, even in a few minutes,” Armas said. This is clearly the identity of the RBNY player, which belies the “villains of MLS” perception that other teams would like to foist upon them.

Enjoying back-to-back home games, the Red Bulls face former teammate Sacha Kljestan and Orlando City SC on Saturday.

Featured image: Sylvana Budeshelm

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A Mixed Bag: NYCFC draws LAFC 2-2

Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

New York City Football Club hosted Los Angeles Football Club for a St Patrick’s day party in the Bronx on Sunday.  This year with no resident “Saint Patrick” Vieira to sprinkle the team with luck, City ended up adding another game to its winless streak.  The match had some highs and lows, with most intensity, pace, accuracy and attacking precision shown in the first half, but frustratingly, it did end as another draw.  

NYCFC built some tight sequences in the midfield which created multiple opportunities. City maintained nearly 70% of the first half possession but the defensive mistakes cost them big.  

New Designated Player Alexandru Mitrita scored his first goal of the season at 39′, but four minutes later LAFC’s Latif Blessing easily jumped on an NYC mistake and fed a perfect pass to Vela, who buried the ball into the goal.  NY once again took the lead in the second half when Ben Sweat found Alex Ring in front of the goal at 62′ and set him up for a hammer of a volley.  Both of New York’s goals being scored from the left side of the goal.  

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NYCFC’s Alexandru Mitrita maneuvers around LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman and Latif Blessing.

Exciting for many fans was that Ronald Matarrita started the game at left back.  Matarrita’s energy, pace and attacking mindset was definitely a welcome addition to the team chemistry.  There was much more pep in the step of the team from the get-go of the game.  The energy in the stadium, particularly between the dueling supporter groups seemed to have been fueling City’s players.  

Fortunately for NYCFC, LAFC was not playing with their full squad as Lee Nguyen, Alejandro Guido, Steven Betashour, Phillip Ejimadu and Rodolfo Zelaya were on the injured list. 

Latif Blessing, who is known as the ultimate super sub who can play vitally any position and generally revitalizes the team when he comes off the bench, started and played the full game.  It was Blessing who found Vela to kick off LA’s first fruitful counterattack to tie up the game in the first half.  It was Blessing who was fouled by Sweat in the box to earn LA a game-tying PK.   So although Sweat did assist Ring in NY’s second goal, he was a mixed blessing.  

In honor of our respective cities and their awards show history,  I’m handing out awards:

For playing cool, calm and collected, and yet not cocky, I bestow my first official Triple C award to James Sands.  The teenager once again showed depth, maturity and grit. 

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NYCFC’s Anton Tinnerholm chases LAFC’s Carlos Vela

Because he’s just that good and gives off the vibe that he’s having a blast on the pitch, the honorary Marcelo award goes to Carlos Vela

Best visiting supporters group energy, enthusiasm and etiquette goes to LAFC’s 3252 who not only were the loudest we’ve ever had, particularly from across the continent but they also followed up with a thank you post on NYCFC’s reddit account for the great time.  See, there’s the silver lining to a draw.  Nobody’s angry.  

The Sleek Award goes to the LAFC’s silver and white kit. What a perfectly appropriate away kit that is flattering, simple and makes good use of metallics.

NYCFC’s next match is Friday 3/29 in Toronto.

To date, NYCFC is 0-0-3.

Featured and all images: @NYCFC

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And It Was All Yellow

Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

That was the pregame song playing as the scoreboard showed a montage of Columbus Crew plays, and the yellow soccer team, ironically not wearing yellow, won the game 1-0 against FC Dallas this past Saturday.

Rolling out a line-up similar to the last home game with the exception of Robinho starting in place of Justin Meram, the team got the winning goal early in the game.  In the 10’, Pedro Santos took a near post corner kick aimed at the head of Gaston Sauro.  Sauro, who was being hugged by one FC Dallas defender and closely guarded by a second defender, jumped and headed the ball into the net. 

Two seasons ago, Crew fans and Gaston Sauro himself did not know if he would ever play soccer again.  Now, he’s put in goals in both of the Crew’s home games.  Currently, he’s tied with Gyasi Zardes, who had a brace last week against the New England Revolution, for goals. 

Robinho had a dangerous shot in the 21’ that rebounded off the keeper, but Zardes had trouble finishing the ball skying it over the net.  The Crew kept the pressure and shots coming throughout the first half but were unable to put any more into the back of the net.

In the second half, FC Dallas seemed to be more dangerous.  Michael Barrios had a nice shot in the 55’ that Zack Steffen was able to slow down and Sauro was able to clear.  In the last 15 minutes of the game, FC Dallas seemed to possess the ball more and shot the ball several times.  In past seasons, the Crew would have conceded a goal at these times of pressure, so it was nice to see them finish the game with a win.

Other Thoughts:

  • In Porter’s system, it appears that Artur and Wil Trapp will be doing more shifting back and forth between offense and defense instead of Wil being more defensively-minded. I feel like I’ve seen Trapp make more mistakes and not bring his A-game this season.  I don’t know if this is Wil adjusting to the new system, if Wil’s skills doesn’t fit this style as well, or if I’m just being nit-picky. I was a Gregg Berhalter fan but have yet to form an opinion about what I think of Caleb Porter yet.
  • I do feel that Pedro Santos is finally finding his form.  Maybe he needed a new coach, but now he has several assists on the season and had some great passes and shots in this match.  
  • I am nervous about when Zack Steffen leaves this team for Manchester City in June.  I just don’t see what goalkeeper can step in and do what he does for this team.  He was supposed to be out this upcoming week with the US Men’s National Team, but due to a knee injury sustained in training, he is missing this round of friendlies and this week’s upcoming Crew game too.  I guess we will see who might step up in Steffen’s absence.
  • In addition, the team will be missing Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, Justin Meram, and Waylon Francis for the next Crew match due to national team call ups.

It’ll be interesting to see how Caleb Porter deals with a slightly depleted roster for the call ups as they travel to take on the Philadelphia Union this weekend. 

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

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Montréal Impact Emerge from the Lions’ Den with 3 points

Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @ejp_nb

After a thoroughly disappointing defeat to Houston Dynamo, Montréal Impact fans were eager to move forward with the next road match, while still nervous that the team would be too fragile to recover from a loss. However, Orlando City had proven to be a comfortable adversary for the Impact since their entry into MLS, and captain Ignacio Piatti had enjoyed scoring 8 goals against them coming into the match, one of his highest tallies against an individual team.

Although de facto right wing starter Harry Novillo had recovered from a late pre-season injury, Orji Okwonkwo was given the start once again as Novillo was not ready to play a full match, and coach Rémi Garde wanted to allow a stable team to build chemistry and rebound from last week’s loss together.

If stability was what Garde sought, his team didn’t initially demonstrate that quality. The first ten minutes of the match in Orlando were reminiscent of last week’s abysmal showing for the Impact, as the Lions pounced while the visitors struggled to find their bearings in the match. Goalkeeper Evan Bush and Lady Luck worked in tandem to allow the Impact to survive an early wave of pressure unscathed. 

The tide turned in the 14th minute, when Samuel Piette launched a long pass toward Saphir Taïder. The Algerian international penetrated the Orlando defense and drifted to the right of Orlando’s 18-yard box as Okwonkwo used his pace to arrive near the penalty spot, where he latched on to Taïder’s cross and punished Orlando’s defensive lapse with a clinical finish the home team sorely lacked.

The Bleu-Blanc-Noir would go on to double their lead directly after OCSC restarted play. Orlando allowed striker Maxi Urruti’s incessant pressing to pay off as he intercepted a weak back pass from a central defender. Goalkeeper Brian Rowe was left with no choice but to sweep Urruti off his feet – however the forward had already passed to Piatti, who needed no further invitation to find the back of the net.

This one-two punch had clearly taken some wind out of Orlando’s sails, as the Impact would go on to enjoy comfortable periods of possession for large stretches of the game. After Okwonkwo had run himself ragged, Novillo made his Impact début, and quickly offered an assist to Piatti off yet another Orlando defensive error in the 80th minute. With his 10th goal against Orlando, Piatti is now the player who has scored the most goals against the men in purple.

Unfortunately for all involved, the match was poorly officiated by a referee new to the league, who allowed a series of increasingly physical challenges to go unsanctioned. It became clear as the clock wound down that tension levels were rising, and there had been several minor clashes between players over the course of the match. Dom Dwyer, who had scored a late consolation goal for Orlando, is a notorious instigator regardless of his opponent.

After a stoppage in play deep in injury time where Novillo received treatment following another robust tackle, Orlando City received the ball. Rather than respecting fair play and returning the ball to a goalkeeper, Orlando elected to go on the attack. This move was poorly received by the Impact, and led to a mass confrontation at the next stoppage in play. Central defender Zakaria Diallo allowed himself to be baited by Dwyer, and received a red card for shoving him in the head. 

OCSC coach James O’Connor would go on to apologize to the Impact in his post-game press conference, as even he felt his team had conducted themselves poorly when ignoring fair play. All in all though, the whole incident was just a blip on the radar in an otherwise satisfying away win.

This match marks the halfway point of the Impact’s six-game road trip, and it is an uphill battle from here until the home opener. The Impact will have next week off as many players depart to represent their countries, and will subsequently enter Blue Hell as they visit Sporting Kansas City on March 30th

Featured image: @impactmontreal

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Montreal Impact Suffocated Yet Again In Houston

Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @ejp_nb

In all of their visits to BBVA Compass Stadium to take on the Houston Dynamo, Montréal Impact have only ever taken one point. If there are matches on the calendar that fans circle with great anticipation, a trip to Houston is not one of them. However, with the positive atmosphere surrounding the team this year, surely the tide was going to change?

Not to be the case.

Time and again, outside factors such as the stifling humidity, artificial turf, and a lack of ambiance in the stadium have been blamed for the Impact’s consistently poor performances in Texas. And perhaps the display the team demonstrated on the field was a result of any combination of those factors.

Ignacio Piatti, the man who makes the sun rise and set for the Impact, was smothered by defenders any time he got a whiff of the ball, remaining well-shackled and unable to contribute to the game. Passes were errant, attacking creativity lacked, and the Impact conceded a late goal – and all the points – after switching off as Houston ramped the intensity up a notch. Over the course of 90 minutes, there was only one team in the match, the team who had played a mid-week game nonetheless.

 As Rémi Garde put forth an unchanged starting eleven from San Jose, fans were pleased to see that the players would get a chance to build off the chemistry that had been building since pre-season. But as many passes went to the opposition and communication seemed non-existent, that chemistry seemed to evaporate before our eyes. Perhaps the Impact need to remain sequestered in a hotel all season in order to maintain continuity?

The highlight of the match for Impact fans was undoubtedly Saphir Taïder’s second goal in as many matches, nearly a carbon copy of his goal in San Jose – the Algerian snuck behind the defense to finish a deep pass, this time off a brilliant cross from Micheal Azira. 

Houston would go on to score immediately after play restarted, before laying a second-half siege to the Impact’s half, much as San Jose did in the previous match.

As the long road trip continues, fans will hope that fatigue does not get the better of the Bleu-Blanc-Noir, as it seemed to do in Houston. Additionally, it looks as though we are in for another year of “Nacho-dependence,”  this writer is off to light a candle for our maestro.

The Impact will take to the road once again, this time visiting Orlando City SC, on Saturday, March 16.

Featured image: @lesliecphotos on Instagram

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @ejp_nb

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Bye, Bye, Bye: Sundry Thoughts on New York Red Bulls

Official NY Red Bulls Reporter

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Matchday 2: Bye Week from League Play

Well… it’s not like I don’t have anything to talk about. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

“… And if they tell two people…”: Look. I’ve ranted about all those folks who complain about attendance at games. It’s forced me to examine the phenomenon myself. Red Bulls are not much different than a lot of MLS teams.

It all comes down to this: a lot of folks in the tri-state area can think of other things they’d rather do than go to a soccer game. Their loss, I say, and I leave it at that. It certainly isn’t my job to look at arena attendance as a problem I must solve.

That being said, the solution may be sitting in front of the average supporter. I work with eight other adults. Just by talking about my writing and the team I cover, two of them are thinking of heading to a game this season.

Like the 1980s shampoo commercial illustrated, word of mouth can be the best way to bring people to a product. The home opener is this weekend– tell your friends.

That old familiar feeling: This is not to say I haven’t been to Red Bull Arena yet this season. I have– twice. For the third year in a row, RBNY earned a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. They started strong with a 5-0 aggregate win over Club Atletico Pantoja of Costa Rica (which meant they got to go to Costa Rica… my snow-shoveling self was a tad jealous).

But the quarterfinal round was a whole ‘nother thing. Liga MX team Santos Laguna, who wallopped their first opponent, Marathon (Panama) 11-2, rode that wave and eliminated Red Bull with an aggregate score of 6-2.

Fans may be asking, “Why,” or better yet, ”Why again?” It’s easy to say they aren’t in full season form, or injuries (Kemar Lawrence most notably) hampered their play. But it’s more than that.

Outspoken soccer pundit Ray Hudson said that CCL “holds a mirror” to MLS teams and says, ‘You’re getting better, but there’s still more work to be done.’ Houston Dynamo was eliminated as well, leaving Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City to try and flip the script.

Kid and Play: (As if I couldn’t show my age enough…) The young and international talent that RBNY has gathered for this season is nothing short of impressive. From Bronx native Omir Fernandez, who made his first professional goal in the Champions League, to Danish phenom Mathias Jorgensen, who hit the field for the first time in red against Santos this week, the club has their eyes on the future.

Putting them alongside established veterans like Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer is the best way for them to elevate their game. Romanian international Andreas Ivan has proven this strategy is beneficial, as evidenced by a goal each in MLS and Champions League. But what may be even more important is what this shows young fans.

Everyone wants to see someone who looks like them in a spotlight, and that includes young people. Fans across the league: bring your kids while teams play their kids. You won’t be disappointed.  

P.S. What– did you think I wouldn’t include the song?

Featured image: Bill Twomey

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Dueling goalkeepers keep NYCFC and DC United to 0-0 draw

Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

New York City Football Club opened its 2019 season at home against DC United on Sunday March 10th. What the match lacked in scoring, it made up for in goalkeeping theatrics. Both NYCFC’s keeper, Sean Johnson, and DC United’s, Bill Hamid, kept the game a nail biter with their superb performances.

DC United’s high and heavy press gave NYCFC’s back line a hard time from literally the first minute of play. Once NYC adjusted to the pressure, the midfield and wings started to put together attacking sequences.  The underlying theme of the offense was “Find Alexandru Mitrita” with one NYC counter attack sending “Mitri” into three DC defenders and almost beating them, before DC’s Wayne Rooney and his elbow destroyed the play.

For this match, Coach Dome Torrent tried a different formation with Taty Castellanos in a striker role and Maxi Moralez back to more of a 10 role.  Once again, James Sands started in central midfield alongside Captain Alex Ring. This season, Ring seems to be playing a lot more offensively and has been given free reign to shoot both inside and outside the box.  On Sunday he had two strong shots with one diving header denied by an incredible save by Hamid.  These are shots that would not have been taken in years past.

Johnson was credited with 3 saves on DC United’s on-target shots.  Officially, they had 7 total shots.  Hamid made 6 saves while City totaled 21 shots, with most of them off target. Most of the on-target shots were incredible efforts by both the attacker and the keeper.  If only there was a way to put a little gold star next to the particularly impressive saves by the keeper.

My takeways:

Taty Castellanos gave a strong performance.  He had multiple shots on target (most of them headers) was where he was supposed to be in attacking sequences and generally appeared to work in rhythm with Mitrita.  Does anyone remember the first two seasons when a ball would cross in front of the opponent’s goal and nobody was there to meet it?  That doesn’t happen with Taty.  If given time to germinate, the chemistry between Castellanos, Mitrita and Maxi can only improve.

James Sands played well and helped lead NYCFC’s efforts to control the middle third of the field.  He seemed to be everywhere adding pressure and then accurately redistributing to kick off our offense. Part of the reason Ring is free to push forward and attack is because Sands is handling the defensive role so reliably.

DC United's Wayne Rooney and NYCFC's James Sands
DC United’s Rooney, NYCFC’s Sands

The combination of Ring and Mitri could become very deadly.  Ring finds Mitri with long penetrating passes and Mitri seems equally comfortable taking shots from  outside the box and maneuvering around multiple defenders into the box.  Pair this with Ring’s willingness and ability to shoot from a distance, and opposing defenders will have a hard time dealing with City’s unpredictability.   

What’s going on with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi?  Last season he stepped up big as the second highest goal scorer on the team during a period when we were without the injured David Villa. I was happy to see him come in as a sub for Jesus Medina after not playing at all in Orlando, but he seemed to have lost his spark for firing off shots on goal.  Is he trying to settle into some new role?  I liked his old one.  You know, scoring goals.

NYCFC is back in the Bronx on Sunday, March 17th against LAFC.

Featured image: @NYCFC

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Montréal Impact Start 2019 Campaign on the Right Foot (or the Left Foot)

Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @ejp_nb

Montréal Impact had enjoyed a string of promising pre-season results, going undefeated in all matches with only one goal conceded. However, anyone who has ever watched MLS knows that pre-season performances are not totally indicative of how a team’s competitive campaign will go. Regardless, as the team spent 40 long days toiling under the hot Florida sun to get in game shape and strengthen the chemistry that saw them finish the 2018 season on a strong note, a quiet optimism began to buzz around the IMFC fanbase.

The Impact’s schedule will undoubtedly test their mettle, as they begin with six consecutive road games while waiting for the Canadian winter to end. Last year, their road form was far from sparkling. A mere 11 points picked up in away games does not exactly inspire confidence when a team needs to start the season on a strong note. However, this is Rémi Garde’s second year in charge, there has been less upheaval in the squad than last year, and several interesting players have come in, notably Maxi UrrutiHarry Novillo, and Zakaria Diallo (who was signed for the 2018 season, but did not play due to an ACL injury).

2019’s first official lineup saw Diallo, Urruti, and Bologna loanee Orji Okwonkwo make their débuts for the Bleu-Blanc-Noir. Fans’ confidence in the Impact’s improvements were short-lived, as a disjointed start saw San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Magnus Eriksson open the scoring in the 11th minute after Victor Cabrera mistimed a tackle and left an ocean of space at the top of the 18-yard box. Similar to their 2018 road record, the Impact were a dismal 1-13-2 after conceding the first goal last season, so having to face adversity this early in the season, after having enjoyed a comfortable pre-season was far from an ideal situation.

Thankfully, the goal proved a sufficient wakeup call for the Impact, as they snapped into life. In a feat that has been notoriously rare, team MVP Ignacio Piatti scored on a corner played short, allowing the Argentinian maestro to do what he does best—dribble around defenders to unleash a bullet into the back of the net with his magical left foot.

As halftime neared, the Impact were well in control of the match, often enjoying controlled spells of possession—a clear departure from the “sit deep and absorb pressure” tactic employed last season. Diallo had roamed forward from his central defender position to pick up the ball in San Jose’s half and was given an ocean of space to parade forward and launch a mouth-watering low cross to Saphir Taïder who dropped off the shoulder of his defender to give the Impact the lead. There remains some debate as to whether or not the Algerian was offside at the time of the cross. However, neither the linesman nor VAR signaled, and the goal was good.

The second half saw a return to old tactics, as the Impact bunkered and allowed the Earthquakes to essentially lay siege to their half. Evan Bush was called into action on a few instances, but the defensive line held tight. The match ended 2-1, with the Impact emerging victorious from San Jose, much to the delight of players and fans alike.

There are still 5 road games left before the home opener on April 13th. But, as the Impact opened their season on such a positive note, there is a lot more optimism around this long road trip. Next, the Impact again travel to hostile ground—Houston Dynamo—to play on Saturday, March 9th.

Featured image: @impactmontreal

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A little magic keeps NYCFC to a 2-2 tie in Orlando

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Saturday, New York City Football Club kicked off its 2019 season facing off in Orlando against Orlando City Soccer Club.   Since NYCFC has no true striker on its roster, fans were wondering what kind of lineup and strategy would be employed.

The back line was as expected with Anton Tinnerholm, Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens with Ben Sweat filling out the four-man back line on the left side instead of an injured Ronald Matarrita.  In midfield were Ring, Sands, Ofori. Fan favorite Lewis with Maxi Moralez, and new Designated Player Alexandru Mitrita (“Mitri”) served as forwards.

It didn’t look like a true 4-4-2 however.  In expected Coach Dome Torrent fashion, the formation seemed less than standard and more like a 4-1-3-1-1 much of the time.

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Orlando City jumped into the game with speed and aggression taking charge of most of the possession and offense for a good portion of the first half.  NYCFC seemed much more defensive and less eager than in past seasons, to maintain possession.

The most dangerous player on the field for most of the game was OCSC’s Christopher Mueller, who along with Johnson dominated both offensively and defensively.  GK Sean Johnson made one impressive save but strangely it appeared that Sacha Klejsten, who historically gave NYCFC trouble, seemed a bit rusty and wasn’t taking shots.  It could also be that the back line was adequately prepared for his predicted style of play and took away his chances.

In a moment of “Wait, what just happened?” Midfielder Ebenezer Ofori, at the 13th minute, took NYCFC’s first shot on goal in the 2019 season and put it into the back of the net.  At the 45th minute, the lead was solidified by a banger by Alex Ring assisted by Mitri.  Despite the relative lack of possession in the first half, New York City closed out the 45 with a 2-0 lead.

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Sadly, the lead was blown in the second half by Orlando City goals scored by Mueller and Tesho Akindele.  The first Orlando goal appeared that to be savable and Johnson may have judged the ball’s path incorrectly.   The second goal was executed pretty quickly after Orlando substitutes Nani and Dom Dwyer came onto the field.

The controversial piece of the game was a handball by Chanot on a shot that was ruled by VAR not to have been a handball. To all viewers who saw the replay in slow motion, it was clearly a handball but VAR is viewed by one camera angle and in real time.  NYCFC dodged a bullet on that call and were able to finish the game level at 2-2.

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Of note, were inclusions of James Sands and Jonathan Lewis in the starting XI.  Sands played well in his first start but Lewis’ work was below expectations, considering his recent success with the US Men’s National Team. He seems to be doing a better job of getting back to provide pressure in our defensive third of the field but was generally unsuccessful in adding his usual offensive spark.

I did like what I saw in Mitri’s style of play after the first twenty minutes when he was settling in.  He’s quick, sees space very well and dishes out precise passes.  He also placed his corner kicks almost perfectly.  Dome said that he is not yet fully fit so I am looking forward to seeing the damage he can do to opponents when 100% in game form.  My takeaway is that Orlando City was the better team and deserved the win so we were lucky to get away with a point.

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Next match is the home opener against D.C. United on Sunday, March 10th. D.C. just picked up a home win off reigning MLS Champion Atlanta United. D.C. looks strong and will be a formidable opponent for NYCFC.

Will NYCFC return to its strategic standard of maintaining possession and play a more attacking lineup with players like Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Ronald Matarrita, or will we see an overall change in team tactics to defense and counter-attacking?

All images:  NYCFC

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A New Beginning: Columbus Crew

Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Columbus Crew vs New York Red Bulls

On Saturday, the Columbus Crew tied the New York Red Bulls in their home opener.  While the final score line was a 1-1 tie, to many in the crowd, it felt like a victory.  Because at this time last year, there was doubt as to if the Crew would have another home opener in Columbus.  

The former Crew owner, Anthony Precourt, had been trying to move the team to Austin.  But due to a strong Save the Crew grassroots movement, government officials, other city and state leaders, and a new ownership group, the Crew will remain in Columbus, and in two years, the team will be playing in a brand-new downtown stadium.  

As the team warmed up and Jonathan Mensah waved at my section, I teared up.  As the new ownership group, the Haslam and Edwards families, were introduced, I teared up.  When I heard them announce the Crew’s starting line-up, I teared up.  As the team took the field, I teared up.  When I looked around the stadium filled with around 17,900 excited fans, I teared up.  When the game ended, I teared up, but not because it was a tie.  But because my team was still here.  For this reason, it was an emotional game, and for this one moment, the results on the field didn’t really matter.

However, now that I can just worry about how my team is playing soccer and not if they are going to be torn away from Columbus, I can happily talk about the results of this game.  

Columbus’s head coach, Gregg Berhalter, left at the end of last season to coach the United States Men’s National Team.  The new ownership hired former Portland Timbers’ head coach Caleb Porter to lead the Crew in this new era.  Porter has a very solid set of players to build upon as the majority of the players from last year have remained with the Crew. 

There are currently only two changes in the Crew’s starting roster.  Stellar left back Milton Valenzuela is out with a knee injury for the season.  He will be replaced by Waylon Francis who returned to the Crew after a year with Seattle.  Also, Gaston Sauro looks to have locked down the starting center back job next to Jonathan Mensah. 

With a familiar starting line-up, the Crew were the first to concede a goal to a slightly different Red Bulls starting line-up as they are also currently playing in the CONCACAF Champions League. In the 6’, Andreas Ivan finished a ball that went over Harrison Afful’s head putting the Red Bulls up by 1. 

Then, near the end of the first half, the Crew equalized with a Gaston Sauro header set up by a Federico Higuain corner kick.  New York looked to grab the lead in the 76’, but it was flagged offsides resulting in a draw at the final whistle.  

Thoughts about the Game:

I didn’t focus much on the difference between Porter’s style of play versus Berhalter’s.  I did notice that both outside backs did not seem to push up into the offensive third as frequently as they seemed to last season.  Wil Trapp didn’t seem to drop back between the center backs as much as he has in seasons past.  The guys didn’t always seem to know where their teammates would be on the field, which is something I felt was apparent in Gregg’s system. 

However, it is early, and I’m sure some of this is preseason rust and some of this is adjusting to new coach’s strategy. 

I did feel that the Crew had a lot of dangerous moments.  Several players had shots that were close to going in. I am really going to keep an eye on Pedro Santos this season.  While not a Crew favorite, outside of the last play of the game, I felt he played a solid game.  Maybe under a new coach, he can find the confidence that seems to be alluding him.  

Now that everything is the way it should be, I look forward to games where the results matter to me because my team is where it is supposed to be.  Looking forward to 3 points when the Crew take on New England this upcoming Saturday. 

Featured image: Hilary

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