CHESTER, Pa. | New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis was wary of winless Philadelphia heading into Saturday’s Eastern Conference match at PPL Park.
“They’re a better team than their record indicates,” he said.
The Union showed just that in their 2-1 victory in front of 18,603 fans on a breezy afternoon.
Vincent Nogueira tapped home a rebound in the 92nd minute as the Union won for the first time this season. New York City FC drops to 1-2-2 (5 points), while Philadelphia improves to 1-3-2 (5 points).
“I was obviously pretty disappointed with the performance in the first 45 minutes,” Kreis said. “For me after every first half we’ve had to come in at halftime and say, ‘Guys, it’s not good enough; it has to get better.’ It’s frustrating. I don’t understand it. The team and the players should all know these opportunities in their life are all fleeting.
“To not be prepared to start a game in a positive, confident and aggressive fashion doesn’t really sit well with me. I’m disappointed with that, but I’m very pleased with the response and reaction in the second half.”
In stoppage time, Andrew Wenger jostled with midfielder Javier Calle near the touchline and chipped a ball into the box. New York City FC goalkeeper Josh Saunders punched the ball away from an on-rushing Conor Casey, but it fell to Nogueira who found the back of the net for the dramatic finish.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” midfielder Andrew Jacobson said. “I don’t think we played very well in the first half. They deserved to be ahead. We got back in the game in the second half and gave ourselves a chance then had a letdown at the end.”
New York City FC continued their trend of coming out stronger in the second half as David Villa scored in the 55th minute to tie the match at 1-1.
Ned Grabavoy threw the ball into Mix Diskerud in Union territory. The midfielder took a few touches and passed it forward to Villa at the 18-yard box, who back heeled it onto Khiry Shelton across the line. Shelton one-touched it back to Adam Nemec, who fed it onto an on-rushing Josh Williams on the right side. The defender’s touch let him down but Philadelphia goalie John McCarthy came out to make the save as the ball squirted back to Villa on the left side. New York City FC’s captain dodged a sliding defender and walked it into the net to tie the score at 1-all.
“The group was challenged pretty severely at halftime and had a positive reaction after that,” Kreis said. “They played extremely well in the second half. But it all seems to have a big black mark on it because of the last play that cost us the points.”
The host Union got off to the better start in the match. In the second minute, Eric Ayuk snapped a shot toward the near post but hit the side netting. In the 18th, Steven Vitoria’s header off a corner went over the net.
Philadelphia finally had their breakthrough in the 27th minute.
New York City FC lost possession near midfield. Wenger took it down the left wing and slipped it to Sebastien Le Toux to his left. Le Toux beat a slide tackle and dribbled to touch line. He squared up and slid the ball across to Zach Pfeffer, who tapped it home.
The Union maintained their one-goal advantage at halftime.
“That’s within ourselves,” Jacobson said of the Club’s continued first-half struggles. “There’s nothing else that it comes from. It’s something we need to figure out deep down inside each and every one of us. There are some things we’re doing well in the first half, but we have to build off of that.”
New York City FC put on the pressure in the second half, resulting in their equalizer. The Club had an opportunity to take the lead in the 73rd as Grabavoy chipped it into the box from the left. McCarthy, who earned the nod ahead of struggling starter Rais Mbolhi, got a finger to it and the ball fell to Calle, but his acrobatic attempt went over the bar.
Villa had a pair of free kicks in the match’s waning minutes, but his first attempt went over the goal and his second in the 89th minute as punched away by McCarthy.
New York City FC gets a chance at redemption as the two Eastern Conference opponents meet again on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET.
“That’s what we want,” Jacobson said. “I think we’re very disappointed in the result, but we get to turn around and get another shot at them.”