New York City FC helped open up Minnesota United’s new stadium by sharing a 3-3 draw on Saturday evening.
Here’s Five Points from an entertaining first clash at Allianz Field…
For NYCFC, the challenge set forth was clear: play the game and not the occasion.
On that score, Dome Torrent’s men passed the test, refusing to lay down despite chasing a deficit twice in the encounter and playing amid a party atmosphere in St Paul.
Recovering from an early concession, City took the lead thanks to two goals in two minutes from Taty Castellanos and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and they came back again after the interval and equalized again after an unfortunate third Minnesota goal (more on that later…).
After dominating the second period thanks to a strong, controlled performance, it was NYCFC who came away feeling like they did enough for all three points and there were plenty of positives to take from the match - on the tactical and technical side, as well as on the mental side of the game.
As Sean Johnson put it: “I don’t think this game is going to do anything that’ll set us back. I think if anything, it’s going to drive us forward.”
“Sean Johnson is amazing…”
Speaking of Johnson, no one demonstrated their mental fortitude better than NYCFC’s no.1.
As the last line of the defense, any mistakes from a goalkeeper are usually terminal and that was the case for Sean when he took a heavy touch from Ebenezer Ofori’s backpass, putting through his own net to make it 3-2 Minnesota.
From then on, a lesser ‘keeper would’ve taken no chances with distribution and played long, especially with the home fans mercilessly raising the volume every time the ball got played back… but not Sean Johnson.
The U.S. international immediately put the error to one side and played his normal game, continuing to play short out of the back and he also came to his side’s rescue with a smart save to tip over the bar with 10’ remaining.
It’s fair to say his Head Coach was impressed by what he saw…
Torrent told reporters after the game: “Sean Johnson is amazing, he has personality. After we concede the goal, because everybody conceded the goal, we played amazing. He played with confidence.
“That’s the most important thing, he has the personality to keep playing with the top teams. I’m very proud of him, because it’s not easy after that happens to play with confidence.”
Taty Castellanos was another player who impressed for the road team, taking the Heineken Man of the Match honors after his best performance in an NYCFC jersey.
The 20-year old forward is still inside his first year at NYCFC and still taking his first steps in the game while adapting to a new country and a new league, but there was evidence that he’s taking big strides based on this performance.
It wasn’t just Taty’s goal, an unerring finish to equalize from Isi’s sublime pass, it was his hold-up play and combinations with his fellow attacking players that caught the eye in a classic no.9 performance.
He also went in where it hurts on the other side of the ball on more than one occasion, with Castellanos winning a crucial header late on and taking a big blow to his head for his troubles.
That ended his evening early but he’d already done enough to win the fan vote for our star player on a dramatic evening.
Isi’s Sophomore Season
Dome switched it up for this one, playing three at the back for the first half, before switching to a more familiar 4-2-3-1 in the second half when Alexandru Mitriță came into the game.
While City looked more dangerous in the second half, having Castellanos and Tajouri-Shradi close to one another definitely helped NYCFC in the attacking third before the interval, with the pair combining for both first-half goals.
With Isi enjoying more of the ball than he has in previous run-outs, the Libyan international grew in confidence as the match went on, enabling him to score his first two goals of 2019 – one, a typically emphatic volley and the other, a clever free-kick from an acute angle.
Tajouri-Shradi was one of the breakout stars for NYCFC in 2018 and he signposted that he could be a big difference-maker for the Boys in Blue once again in his Sophomore season.
Another player who continues to win rave reviews is James Sands, who is enjoying a breakout season of his own.
Only Maxime Chanot, Sean Johnson, Alex Ring and Anton Tinnerholm have more minutes than James’s 538 minutes, with the Rye native playing all but two minutes of City’s six games.
Fielded in the central defensive role he’s played for the Academy and for U.S. youth teams, Sands was just as combative and intelligent as he’s been in his first five games at the base of midfield.
Again, Torrent was impressed by what he saw: “In the second half we played with four in the back in a 4-3-2-1. We had more quality in the forwards and our defenders played well. Especially James [Sands], he was a fantastic player for us today, and the last game and he can play as a holding midfielder, as a center back.
“He is in top form right now.”
He sure is!