Much was made of New York City FC entering Mapfre Stadium, where Columbus Crew had been unbeaten this season. It doesn’t take much for a winning streak at home to get blown out of proportion, for a stadium to garner comparisons to a fortress, a hall of kings. To say that of the Mapfre when this season’s match days are still in the single digits was presumptuous at best — honestly, this isn’t the Sánchez Pizjuán, where Sevilla famously lost one home match during the whole of the 2014-15 season.
In other words: A “streak” like that doesn’t impress me much, and I’m delighted NYCFC were the ones to break it.
With Rónald Matarrita and Khiry Shelton still out with injuries, David Villa sidelined by the flu and Andrea Pirlo taking the bench for a spin, this was NYCFC’s most experimental lineup yet. Several players got their first starts for the team — Sean “Ugo” Okoli, Yangel Herrera and Ben Sweat all broke into the first eleven and all did remarkably well. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
I admit, I had my doubts looking at the lineup. It strikes me as funny that even with all of the notable absences, Tommy McNamara still didn’t make the cut. This time he wasn’t even used as a super sub — though, in fairness, Patrick Vieira‘s (extremely late, one of my biggest pet peeves in football) substitutions focused on bolstering our defense, not on going for more goals. Still, it’s strange. I worry a little for T-Mac.
Regardless, this side did remarkably well with what they had. They kept possession, created plenty of chances, and put pressure on Columbus at every opportunity. Even when they slipped up, they were better at regaining possession than they usually are. There was confidence in this NYCFC side where they could have just as easily been new, shaky legs.
Jack Harrison netted his first career brace. The first goal was inarguably the best: A gorgeous pass from Maxi Moralez landed perfectly at Jack’s feet, and he chipped it in at a difficult angle like it was as easy as breathing. His second and the match-winning goal was mostly due to an incredibly defensive screwup by Columbus and there was no way he could have missed it, but still. A brace is a brace, and Jack is incredible. I’m not entirely convinced he isn’t a footballing robot. The kid is just that good.
Sandwiched between the two, Yangel Herrera scored the equalizer (and drew a little blood) with an assist from Ben Sweat. Good job, debut boys! There could have been goals from Ugo and Rodney Wallace as well, but luck wasn’t quite on their side. Still, everyone looked strong in their attack, and that was the most heartening thing to see.
NYCFC isn’t a team I associate with comebacks, but this was a lovely bit of remontada magic from the boys in blue. I know better than to get used to it, of course. Even if it was a one-off fluke, you have to commend them for not giving up when they were down.
Unless you’re a Columbus fan. Then you probably hate them for it. But why are you reading this? Go check out our new Columbus Crew reporter instead!
As always, here are a few random thoughts:
As a Real Madrid and Juventus fan, I will literally never get used to hearing MLS fans chant for Higuaín. Wrong Pipa, guys! There truly was nothing Sean Johnson could do to stop his stunning volley of a goal, though, so I guess Lanky Pipa has his merits too. It’s still weird.
We do not speak of what an absolute mess Alexander Callens made that led to Columbus’ second goal of the night. If every defender has to have one epic blunder per season, please let that be his. (Yes, I know he’s had plenty of other blunders so far — but god, none quite so painful as that.)
Yangel Herrera completed my personal debut trifecta: First yellow card, first assist, first goal! I feel like a proud mama hen.
Huge shout out to the YES Network for having a microphone right by the Columbus Crew supporters section. I love it when my matches are set to the crystal clear soundtrack of drunk men screaming the usual uninspired chants. So enjoyable!
Maxime Chanot wears the captain’s arm band well. Just a little something to keep in mind for the future, maybe.
Dear Mikey Lopez, please rise from your grave and return to us. I miss watching him play so much. Every week I think this is the week he makes his glorious return, but it never is. Eventually, right?
Next week we host Atlanta United, and I fully expect it to be a mess. A fun mess, of course!
Yes, it’s nice to get decisive, comfortable wins. I’d certainly never be foolhardy enough to turn down an early lead and a clean sheet. That feeling of assurance that your team will win is irreplaceable (and rare).
But there’s a certain magic in coming up from behind.
The true mettle of a team tends to show its face when the scoreline isn’t skewing in their favor. It’s easy to fall to pieces when the opponent has the advantage. It’s easy to panic, to get desperate and sloppy. It’s much harder to keep heads up, eyes forward, and minds clear. Despite San Jose Earthquakes‘ early goal on Saturday, the boys in blue managed to retain their focus and pushed hard to come back.
Jack Harrison scored the equalizer just ten minutes in, off of a so-casual-it-couldn’t-possibly-have-been-on-purpose (but it was!) backheel from David Villa. I’m a huge fan of the Villa-Harrison connection. The two of them read each other incredibly well and always seem to know where the other is without looking.
That quick comeback gave New York City FC the confidence to keep persisting through the first half, though nothing came to fruition. Alex Ring, in particular, was doing the most he could to get a goal. It never quite came together, but he was delightful to watch. Ring is graceful with the ball at his feet — the word delicate even came to mind as I was watching him. It’s refreshing to watch.
Things never looked hopeless for NYCFC, but the struggle to find attacking harmony in the second half was undoubtedly real. And then, cometh the hour, cometh the man: Just six minutes after his substitution, West Nyack’s golden boy Tommy McNamara found the back of the net. Who else? Who but T-Mac could pick us up when we’re down?
Of course, to credit the goal just to Tommy would be doing a disservice to the beautiful play that led up to it. It truly was a team goal, which makes the turnabout win so much sweeter. Rodney Wallace passed to Villa, who coolly laid it off for Rónald Matarrita — and he could have gone for goal there, he really could have, but at the end of the day Mata is an architect, not a showboat. He saw Tommy with space and handed him the goal on a silver platter. It was one of those glorious moments in soccer where everything comes together so quickly and seamlessly, you have to wonder why you were ever stressed to begin with.
Those three points at home bring NYCFC up to a three-way tie for second place in the Eastern Conference. It’s still early, but I remain confident as ever that this is a stronger, better, faster NYCFC. This comeback just solidified it for me. Nothing is impossible if we keep this attitude up.
What else went down?
Death to short corners. I’m over them. Give me a long, elegant arc over the top for a set piece goal any day of the week.
Not that I ever want to think about David Villa leaving us, but when he inevitably does, I hope T-Mac is still around. He has all the qualities a captain should possess — dedication, humility, grace under pressure — and, perhaps even more importantly, the undying love of the supporters.
My Andrea Pirlo feelings remain complicated. To echo what I said after our opening match, I’m not sure I can conceive of a world where he’s relegated to the bench. It simply doesn’t compute in my head. At the same time, it’s hard to come to his defense after a showing like this one. And yet, because he’s Andrea freaking Pirlo, there’s a tendency to gloss over what his game lacks — to wit, Patrick Vieira was adamant in his post-match comments that he did not sub Pirlo off because he was playing poorly. I can’t imagine we’ll see a reality where Pirlo isn’t starting with some regularity, but still, I’d be interested in knowing what shape the team can take without him.
Maxime Chanot was a verifiable wall in this match. He was everywhere, tackling and intercepting and clearing like it’s his job — I mean, it is, but you know. Man of the Match is an accolade that rarely goes the way of defenders, but if I could give it to him, I would.
To celebrate April Fools’ Day, NYCFC adopted a pigeon. I choose to believe this was not a prank, and I look forward to seeing what Theodore brings to the team. New York is coo.
Next weekend you can find me at Avaya Stadium in the Sounders supporters’ section with my Seattle-loving friends! But I’ll be back on Sunday to watch a replay of NYCFC’s match and report on it… if we win. If I find out we lost, I may mysteriously be too busy.