Ronald Matarrita is back.
After being sidelined for six weeks with an ankle injury, the left back made his first start since July 10 and was pivotal in a 1-0 win over the LA Galaxy Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Matarrita’s influence was felt on both sides of the ball, and in the locker room as well.
“For us, he’s a welcome return, a very important player for us,” NYCFC assistant coach Christian Lattanzio said. “Also for the group, he’s very lively, he brings good positive energy. We are really happy to have him back.”
Matarrita’s ability to make deep runs down the left flank led to David Villa’s winning goal in the sixth minute. Already pushed up the field, Matarrita latched onto a Jack Harrison cross inside the 18-yard box and put a shot on frame with his second touch.
LA Galaxy goalkeeper Clement Diop got a piece and the ball caromed backward where Villa volleyed into the net from point blank range.
“David always knows where to be at the right time, he’s always in the right spot,” Matarrita said. “We’ve been working a lot attacking on my side of the field and I try to help as much as much as possible, especially on my side. It was a great play and I was able to finish it.”
Matarrita, who had season highs in shots (four) and shots on frame (two), forced an early tactical adjustment from LA Galaxy Bruce Arena, who switched Gyasi Zardes and Giovani dos Santos because of Matarrita’s successful bombing runs.
“Mata is a very important player for this group because he plays with a lot of energy, a lot of athleticism, he has technical qualities, can deliver a great ball, has a great engine,” Lattanzio said. “You could see he gave everything.”
Lattanzio moved Matarrita up the field late in the match when he brought on RJ Allen for Tommy McNamara. Matarrita, who came off the bench for the final 21 minutes of a 3-3 draw against the Columbus Crew last Saturday, played 85 minutes before being replaced by Steven Mendoza.
“Today was a very special game for me,” Matarrita said. “I was very excited to be able to come back after being out for a month and a half, it’s not easy for any player to be off the field. I was very excited and I was able to help the team today. That was a big thing for me.”
The win was NYCFC’s fourth in a row at Yankee Stadium and ensured they would remain atop the Eastern Conference at the end of the weekend. It was also against a club considered by some a favorite to win the MLS Cup.
“For me, in reality right now we are one of the best teams,” Matarrita said. “The bad start we had at the beginning of the season, a lot of the games we lost in the last second, the last minute, was very tough for us. Now, as a whole we’re feeling a lot better and our mentality has grown and stayed together and we’re doing our best to stay on top of the table.”