New York City FC fell to a first home defeat in five months at the hands of Portland Timbers on Saturday evening.
Here’s Managing Editor Mark Booth with five things we learned from a frustrating encounter in the Bronx…
Shake it Off
It’s never nice to lose, especially on home turf, but this defeat was far from terminal to NYCFC’s ambitions for 2017.
Patrick Vieira expressed his pride at the attitude and personality demonstrated by his players as they put everything on the line to try and salvage something from the game following Diego Valeri’s 44th minute strike.
Toronto’s victory over San Jose increased their advantage in the Supporters’ Shield race to nine points which, at this stage of the season, may prove to be an irretrievable margin but Chicago’s failure to defeat Red Bulls was at least something of a reprieve.
With a five-point gap on third place still intact, the Boys in Blue are still well in control of their destiny when it comes to securing an automatic place in the Conference semifinals, so dusting ourselves down for Colorado on Saturday should be easy enough with so much left to play for.
… yet it could all have been so different if the referee had given David Guzman his marching orders for the first half foul on Maxi Moralez.
Vieira admitted his frustration with the decision in his post-game press conference and it’s easy to sympathize with the NYCFC boss - especially with the benefit of replays.
From referee Ismail Elfath's point of view, there was a Portland defender who could have gotten around to replace Guzman as the last man before Moralez got a shot away but that’s ignoring the prolonged nature of the foul.
Guzman appeared to hold Maxi down and tug at his shirt before finally ensuring the Argentine could go no further, giving that auxiliary defender the opportunity to close in and give the appearance that a goalscoring opportunity was not being denied.
Tight games are decided on these fine margins and, unfortunately, this one did not go the way of the home side.
Vieira dismissed one reporter’s assertion that NYCFC may have been suffering from fatigue following two games in three days.
When you factor in that Portland had two clear weeks to prepare for this game, it’s a tempting conclusion to come to but the Frenchman said that he was satisfied with the intensity on show from his players.
What may have bitten us ultimately is the fact that our roster has been depleted by an unfortunate batch of injuries to important first-team regulars.
If you were drawing up a shortlist for the team’s Player of the Season from the first 28 games, you’d have to have all of Yangel Herrera, Alex Ring and David Villa on it, but not one of this trio was available for a second successive game and maybe this is what ultimately cost us.
Surely, the league’s leading scorer would have put away at least one of the chances we created on the night, while the bite and technical quality of Herrera and Ring in the middle third would certainly have aided our hopes of taking at least a point.
Ultimately, this is just playing a superfluous game of “ifs” and “buts”, so Vieira will waste no time on these ruminations and focus instead on preparing those available to him for their upcoming battles.
Save of the Season?
For all of NYCFC’s territorial dominance, they were indebted to their goalkeeper on more than one occasion for keeping them in range as Sean Johnson produced a masterclass in shot-stopping.
Johnson made all types of saves in this Man of the Match winning performance but he saved the very best for last, denying Valeri a second goal with a stop which drew a collective gasp from all 23,000 fans present.
Reading Valeri’s intentions, Johnson moved across his line quickly and got a strong hand to what looked like a tap-in, turning it over the crossbar.
Johnson was certainly one man who did not deserve to be on the losing side.
As our long unbeaten home run comes to an end, it would be remiss not to outline just how good we’ve had it in the Bronx for such a long stretch of the campaign.
Five months and ten games have passed without us tasting defeat at Yankee Stadium and this was the first time we’ve not scored in a Regular Season game at home since May 2016.
Now, it’s time to put another run together – one that will take us into the post-season full of belief and confidence that this could be our year, regardless of this bump in the road.