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With just about everything on the line, New York City FC pulled off a key 1-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday night in the Bronx.

By Jeff Weisinger

Remember when the star designated players weren’t doing much for New York City FC? Well, that changed on Wednesday night in the Bronx.

NYCFC notched a huge 2-0 win over Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on a goal in the 20th minute by Frank Lampard and a header off of an Andrea Pirlo corner by Patrick Mullins in the 77th minute.

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While the shutout win was huge, NYCFC played what looked like their best 90 minutes of the season defensively.

Goalkeeper Josh Saunders, along with a backline that featured Chris Wingert, Jason Hernandez, Shay Facey and RJ Allen with Andrew Jacobson controlling the defensive midfield, teamed up near perfectly to record the clean sheet – the first for the Blues since June 20th against Toronto FC at BMO Field in Toronto where they also won 2-0.

Saunders recorded seven key saves on the night, the most he’s recorded in a match since NYCFC defeated Montreal 2-1 back on July 4th.

“I think that’s the biggest thing tonight apart from the three points,” NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis mentioned in his post-game presser. “Those were critical, but to get a shutout was really important for us against a team that is very good in the attacking half of the field by the way.”

The defensive half of the pitch mostly contained star strikers Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, while Saunders rejected several shots from captain Michael Bradley who created some big opportunities midway through the second half.

“Unlike last game, we didn’t give [Giovinco] three breakaways,” Wingert explained. “We did a better job tonight of everybody being concerned of where he was at all times and did our best to get him off of the ball.

“It always feels good to get a shutout like that, especially against a potent attack like Toronto has.”

Despite be mostly contained throughout the night, Giovinco still managed to get off six shots (three on goal) while playing all 90 minutes of the night.

The big story, however, is the first NYC and MLS goal by midfielder Frank Lampard. Lampard scored in the 20th minute on a wild pass by RJ Allen, which Lampard brought down in the middle of the box and shot past Toronto keeper Chris Konopka for the Blues’ first goal of the night.

“It’s been frustrating for me,” he said to a swarm of reporters in the locker room after. “No one is more frustrated when you’re not playing than the player himself. I want to give back, show the people what I can do. It’s a goal. I’ll get fitter, I’ll get better and there will be more goals I hope. I’m confident of that. Personally for me, it was nice.”

Lampard wore the captain’s armband in place of Spanish striker David Villa who sat out of Wednesday night’s match with a hamstring injury he suffered in the first half last Saturday in the loss at Dallas.

Rookie forward Khiry Shelton made his return from injury Wednesday night as well, playing 17 minutes as the Blues were looking for the goal to seal the match. The appearance was Shelton’s first since May 30th.

“It was great,” Shelton said. “I was glad to get back on the field with the guys.

“There’s playoffs on the line. The win tonight is big, especially against that team. They’re a very good team.”

Just minutes after Shelton’s entrance, NYCFC had another first on the season. The Blues forced a corner kick twice around the 76th-to-77th minute. The first corner kick by Andrea Pirlo was tipped over the crossbar, however the second, this time from Konopka’s right side, found Mullins, who headed it in to put NYCFC up 2-0. The goal was the first goal scored on a corner kick by the Blues all season.

“The ball was on the money and as a forward you want to put yourself in good positions,” Mullins said about his goal. “Once you’re there I thought I had good strength, good acceleration in the air and the final product of the finish that’s what made it into a great goal.”

With the win and Montreal pulling a 1-1 draw against San Jose Wednesday night, NYCFC once again find themselves on the cusp of sneaking into the playoffs as the sixth seed with 31 points – Orlando City has 32 and Montreal currently has 33 after the draw with three games in-hand.

NYCFC take on the San Jose Earthquakes (11-11-7; 39 points) Saturday night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The Quakes are in a similar position as NYCFC, also fighting to get into the playoffs as the sixth and final playoff seed in the West, trailing current sixth-seed Portland by one point in the standings.

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