David Villa
(Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

Geoffrey Campbell

With backs fully up against the wall, NYCFC came to play, picking up a late goal and securing a point against D.C. United.

BRONX, NEW YORK—Overcast in the Bronx on a fall day must’ve felt like a homecoming for former England star Wayne Rooney. The three lions all-time leading scorer was set to face off against Spain’s all-time leading scorer David Villa in a clash of two titans, both with a decorated club and international careers.

Despite being miles apart in the MLS table, both teams are surprisingly trending in opposite directions. D.C. United, who currently sit eighth in the eastern conference, came into the game off a massive win against Atlanta FC and have five wins in their last eight games.

On the other hand, the Bronx Blues, who sit third, currently have just one win in their last seven games. Since the change in manager, NYCFC has been losing ground in the standings and the chase for the all-important Supporter’s Shield.

The Cityzens would be without midfielder and 2018 All-Star Alex Ring due to suspension (accumulation of yellow cards) as well as Maxime Chanot, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Ebenezer Ofori, and Rodney Wallace all out tending to international duties.

As a result, a side unchanged from the loss to New England Revolution saw Eloi Amagat as part of a midfield three alongside Ronald Matarrita and James Sands.

The early action in this game belonged to NYCFC. Matarrita continued his recent form, battling through tackles and passing with accuracy. Amagat also looked comfortable in his midfield role, both in distribution and in defense.

Despite the possession favoring NYCFC, Rooney almost pulled off an impressive bicycle kick to open the scoring, but it was wide of the target. The Bronx Blues’ first chance came off a David Villa shot. Villa was set up with a nice chip from Maxi Moralez, however, the captain could not convert from a tough angle and hit the side netting.

Dome Torrent would be happy that both his wingbacks, Ben Sweat, and Anton Tinnerholm were involved in the attack. And while some of their crosses could’ve been improved, their presence was a constant reminder to D.C. United’s defense that NYCFC would not relent.

Valentin Castellanos also continued his good form. Taty came close several times, proving to be one of the more dangerous players on the field with the ball at his feet.

Alex Callens also came close with two headers from close range. The first was beautifully set up by Amagat, and truth be told, Callens should be disappointed that he didn’t convert and put his side on the scoresheet.

At the end of the half, Taty lead all players with four shots, Callens and Villa each had three. And with only one recorded shot from D.C. United, it was just another sign of the dominance from NYCFC during the first half. The Cityzens also lead the way in passing accuracy and possession as well.

The second-half’s first chance came from Matarrita. The Costa-Rican took a nice lay-off from Castellanos and drove it hard and low to the corner. Unfortunately, keeper Bill Hamid made a great save, fully-stretched to his left.

But in the 58th-minute deja vu struck the home side when D.C. United got their goal. Rooney lofted a beautiful free-kick that met the head of Steve Birnbaum. Sean Johnson looked slightly timid when he came out for the ball and he seemed bemused that there was no call for a foul on Birnbaum.

Once again, NYCFC dominated possession and played an attractive brand of soccer but it was not leading to goals. Even a one-on-one battle between Villa and Hamid in the 62nd minute could not yield positive results. And the supporters were becoming impatient.

It seemed like if it wasn’t for bad luck, NYFCFC would have no luck at all. Every cross and shot just seemed to be inches wide or would draw an incredible save from Hamid, who by all accounts is no Gianluigi Buffon.

But just when it seemed like all was lost, the clouds parted and the captain came to the rescue. Villa was awarded a free-kick just outside the 18-yard box. Not be outdone by Rooney’s assist, Villa curled a beauty past the diving Hamid and it was game on.

The Bronx Blues pushed on for a second goal but it never came. In the end, a point gave fans the ability to exhale but overall, it was a disappointing end to a game where NYCFC dominated all areas of the box score.

In the postgame, Torrent stated that he felt confident that his team can challenge to win MLS if they played like they did against both, the New England Revolution and D.C. United. NYCFC are off for two weeks until they travel to Montreal to play the Impact. With five games left, every point is vital.

Final Stats

  • Goals: NYCFC – 1 D.C. United – 1
  • Shots: NYCFC – 31 D.C. United – 2
  • Possession: NYCFC – 68.1% D.C. United – 31.9%

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