Looking to add fuel to the fire that is their two-game winning streak, New York City FC takes on the defending champs on the west coast.
By Jeff Weisinger
One down, two to go.
After notching a big win at D.C. United last Sunday night, New York City FC looks to add to their current two-game winning streak when they take on the reigning MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers tonight (7:30 p.m. EST, Fox Sports 1).
Actually, maybe the term “looks to add” is an understatement. If New York City head coach Patrick Vieira is going to start to solidify himself as the right decision by the club after they fired Jason Kreis after a one-and-done campaign, then he needs to get NYCFC to earn key wins during this road trip. In fact, this road trip could be one of the most important road trips of the season so far.
It was during this point last year that NYCFC was suffering through an 11-game winless stretch, that was ended, fittingly enough, against the Chicago Fire a year ago today in a 2-2 draw with Khiry Shelton scoring his first career MLS goal in stoppage time to hold onto the point.
Oh the good times. But the stakes are a bit different a year later.
With Toronto FC losing to Vancouver last night and both the Philadelphia Union and the Montreal Impact playing to a 1-1 draw earlier yesterday, NYCFC has a chance to leap into a tie for first place with the Impact in the Eastern Conference table with a win tonight.
“I feel like the team is motivated,” defender Ronald Matarrita said after the Blues’ win at D.C. “Our dynamic has been very good after two big games. I think that we have to keep up this level of play and having a great game in Portland to get three more points is very important for us.”
New York City FC hasn’t been in first place of the Eastern Conference since their opening day win at Chicago. At this point last year they were at the bottom, or near-bottom of the Eastern Conference table with seemingly no hope in sight.
Take all of that for what you will.
Yet, much like the Blues, the Timbers enter Sunday night’s match needing a win for another reason: Portland is coming off of back-to-back 2-1 losses, most recently a defeat a FC Dallas Wednesday night as they conceded a pair of goals in a two-minute span early in the second half. They’re currently ninth in the Western Conference with 12 points.
“Winning the last two games is really good for our mind,” Vieira said. “It will be another tough, difficult match. We’re playing a team who won the league last year, who are not in their best period of the moment. But that means nothing.”
What else could also mean nothing are the inclusions of both midfielders Frank Lampard and Jack Harrison on the larger-than-usual road trip to the Pacific Northwest. Neither are expected to play, however Lampard trained with the first team on Wednesday, adding some sort of speculation to whether or not he’ll be in the 18-man lineup Sunday night.
“We’re taking everybody on the trip because we don’t know what is going to happen with the flying, the game, we don’t know how players are going to react,” Vieira explained. “We’re taking everybody on the trip because from Portland we’re going straight to Toronto. It will be an important trip for us.”
The Blues end their three-game road trip at Toronto FC Wednesday night.
Lampard close to returning, Harrison still needs time
Both Frank Lampard and Jack Harrison are continuing their rehab training from their injuries which have held them out all season so far. Lampard, however, seems the closest on coming back.
“Frank had the first part of the training with the team [Wednesday],” Vieira said. “Regarding how the calf will react [Thursday] [will decide if] he’ll do the full session. He’s getting close.”
“Jack is still working by himself, but he went one step up. It should be another week before he can train with them.”
Lampard has been sidelined with a strained calf since the first match of the preseason while Harrison is trying to come back from a pelvis injury suffered early on in training camp. If all went well with Lampard over the weekend, he could return to the 18-man lineup either Sunday or Wednesday at Toronto.
Harrison, however, looks like he could make his debut, fittingly, in the Hudson Derby match next Saturday against the Red Bulls — making for the perfect storyline debut.
The 19-year old midfielder has yet to see any game action since his pelvis injury in the opening days of training camp, however has hinted, or teased, at a possible debut on May 21 in his comments. That, of course, is yet to be seen.
Harrison was acquired by NYCFC in a draft day trade with the Chicago Fire, who took him first overall after he played with Wake Forest and Manhattan Soccer Club.