NYCFC went down to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Houston Dynamo in our Desert Diamond Cup opener on Saturday night and there was no shortage of talking points.
There could have been more, but here are five things we learned from the game…
Only one place to start… the moment David Villa was shown a straight red card, seconds after being shown a yellow.
How does something like that happen? Well, in between these two instances, the referee made the “box” motion, to indicate that video footage would be required to determine El Guaje’s fate.
From the replays, the officials reached the conclusion that Villa’s participation in the game was over – whether or not you agree with that call, it was one of the first opportunities we’ve had to see Video Assistant Referees in action.
The VAR system is being trialed in a number of MLS preseason games this year but where do you stand on it? On one hand, the referee is being given more chance than ever to make an informed decision on controversial incidents but, on the other, does it detract from the flow of the game and detract from the enjoyment of soccer’s unique aesthetic?
It’s a debate which shows no signs of abating in the days, weeks and months ahead.
2. Turning Point
Up until the red card, we were treated to an exhibition match which wasn’t too far off having the appearance of an MLS Regular Season game.
Houston struck early, only for NYCFC to grow into the encounter and score a deserved equalizer through Villa on the 15 minute mark.
The pace was frenetic with the action shifting from end to end and the tackles flying in from both sides but, as so often is the case, the red card altered the ebb and flow, leaving us with a distorted 11 v 10 game that was difficult to draw many conclusions from.
Houston’s man advantage ultimately told as they retook the lead five minutes into the second half and they grabbed a third in the dying embers to secure the win.
Had Villa remained on the field, it would surely have been a very different match but red cards happen, and Patrick Vieira will still have come away with at least a few gleanings from what he took in on an eventful evening.
3. Maxi-mum Impact
One aspect of the game that surely will have pleased the NYCFC Head Coach is the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what our new DP can bring to the table.
Maxi Moralez received his visa late on Friday night, so was cleared to take to the field in NYCFC colors for the first time against Houston and he looked right at home in his new surrounds.
Like all great Argentine playmakers before him, Maxi seems to play the game on the half turn and he demonstrated his appreciation of space and clever use of the ball in his first 45 minutes of play.
Moralez’s interplay with his new teammates was also impressive as he played at the tip of the midfield, close to Villa, where he could pull the strings, drawing fouls and knitting together moves which brought all of the front three into the game regularly.
Then, there was also his influential role in the equalizing goal…
4. Counter Strike
Moralez > Harrison > Villa > Goal
NYCFC’s goal after 15 minutes was a swift knife stroke through the heart of Houston as our attacking triumvirate turned defense into attack with devastating speed.
The team scored some memorable counter-attacking goals last season and it looks like it could be a weapon in our arsenal once again in 2017 if this strike was anything to go by.
Moralez effortlessly freed Harrison on the right wing and the Englishman did what he does best, running at defenders and choosing the perfect time to release his captain.
For just a moment, it appeared as though Villa might have taken the ball too wide with his first touch but you’d be a fool to doubt David’s finishing prowess as he picked out the far corner from the tight angle, giving the goalkeeper no chance.
5. Andre the Giant
Andre Rawls had a quiet debut for NYCFC in the 2-0 defeat to Red Bulls on Wednesday but he had a busier time of it on his second appearance against Houston.
Following his bow, Rawls described his improvement in the last year as “night and day” and we definitely got the opportunity to see these words in action in the closing minutes on Saturday.
The goalkeeper made two excellent saves to prevent Dynamo from racking up a more emphatic scoreline – the standout: a full stretch diving stop to deny Alex his second on 66 minutes.
Andre will be hoping for another chance to impress against Colorado on Wednesday when our Desert Diamond Cup campaign continues but, even if he doesn’t, he’ll be satisfied that he had this chance to remind everyone watching that NYCFC have three reliable goalkeepers to call upon.