Since the Historic Home Opener on March 15, New York City FC has been striving to be the aggressor in the first half of a match, dictate the tempo and dominate possession.
The Club did just that in Thursday’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union in front of 20,461 at Yankee Stadium. Not surprisingly, the players are anxious to get back out on the field to improve on that performance further and keep momentum in their favor.
They’ll have an opportunity to do just that on Sunday evening as the Portland Timbers travel across the country and visit the Bronx. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT. The match will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1.
“We talked about not coming out slow in the first half,” goal scorer Mehdi Ballouchy said. “I thought we played really well in the first half of this game. We moved the ball, we were all over them and they had trouble coming into our half.
“If we replicate this every game, we will come back on the good side more often than not.”
The 32-year-old journeyman found the back of the net in the 57th minute to give the home side a one-goal advantage. It was his first goal since 2012.
Unfortunately, the Union answered back – just as they had when the teams met on April 11 – as C.J. Sapong scored in the 86th minute to share the points.
“Our coaches talk to us every day about putting stuff behind you and focusing on what’s ahead of you,” midfielder Kwadwo Poku said. “We came in with the mindset of getting three points, but at the end of the day it didn’t happen. The next game is the most important.
“Besides giving up that goal I thought we played really well. We created a lot of chances. We have to keep our heads up and focus on the next game Sunday.”
Portland comes into Sunday’s match at 1-2-3 (6 points), ranked last in the Western Conference. New York City FC is sixth in the Eastern Conference at 1-2-3 (6 points).
The Timbers have struggled offensively this season, finding the back of the net six times in six matches with three of the goals coming in a 3-1 win over FC Dallas on April 4. They’ve been shut out on three occasions (twice on the road).
Portland, which is coming off a 2-0 home defeat to MLS expansion side Orlando City SC on April 12, is trying to cope without playmaker Diego Valeri. The club’s leader in goals (11) and assists (14) in 2014 tore his ACL on the final day of last year’s campaign. Valeri, who recently rejoined the Timbers in training last week along with captain Will Johnson, is expected to return to the field in May.
“That was a nice milestone,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter told reporters after training earlier this week. “We’re hoping next week they’ll be completely released to train, full-out.”
New York City FC isn’t as lucky. The Club was forced to replace both forward David Villa and defender Jason Hernandez at halftime of Thursday’s match against Philadelphia due to injury. Hernandez (calf strain) is out of Sunday’s match against Portland, while Villa (hamstring strain) is questionable.
Head coach Jason Kreis fielded a more attacking lineup against the Union, starting midfielder Javier Calle at left back and forward Khiry Shelton on the right side of midfield. New York City FC came out the aggressor, holding the advantage in possession (61.5 to 38.5 percent) and shots (7-6) in the opening 45 minutes.
For the second straight match, Philadelphia proved heartbreaker, though, scoring in the waning minutes. On April 11 at PPL Park, Vincent Nogueira’s goal in the 92nd minute propeled the Union to a 2-1 victory, while Sapong’s finish on Thursday forced a draw.
“We need to stay positive,” New York City FC goalkeeper Josh Saunders said. “We need to band together and look at things as a team. We need to look at things collectively that we can do better.”