– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEW YORK — The first 45 minutes from New York City Football Club in its penultimate home match of the season contained enough of the listlessness and lack of invention that has resulted in the current rut the team found itself in, all at the absolute wrong time of the season to go into a malaise. As far as the game was concerned, all of that changed during a four-minute span in the second half, and NYCFC players and fans alike can only hope that their overall fortunes going forward change just as rapidly.
Captain David Villa brilliantly set up the game’s first goal by Alex Ring before scoring himself as NYCFC defeated the Chicago Fire 2-0 at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, snapping a six-game winless streak in the process. The win also officially clinched a playoff berth for NYCFC, the third consecutive season that they will be participating in the postseason.
As recently as a month ago, securing passage into the MLS Playoffs looked to be something NYCFC would have taken care of well before the end of September, given their stellar home form for the majority of the season as well as not skipping much of a beat after Villa missed almost two months of the season with a knee injury. Villa’s return coincided with the start of New York’s swoon, however, as the team had gone just 1-3-3 since Aug. 12 while scoring just four goals – one via a Montréal Impact own goal – during that seven-game stretch.
A win by any means was the order of the day for New York City, especially given that it had not won a game at home since mid-July.
“I want to congratulate [our team] on being able to win again. It was very important to win for our fans because with these last two games in Yankee Stadium, we deserved to win and sometimes it doesn’t happen because this is football,” said NYCFC manager Domènec Torrent. ‘I think the team deserved to win again, one game. I don’t want to be tough so I think we are in the right direction to be better for the playoffs.”
It took a little while for NYCFC to find that direction as it stalemated with Chicago in a scoreless first half that produced very little in terms of quality scoring chances by either side. From the re-start, however, New York took the bit between the teeth and opened the scoring with wonderful combination play. A pass by midfielder Maxi Moralez to Villa near the top of the box was followed by a deft back-heel of a layoff by Villa to an on-rushing Ring, who sent a first-time left-footed curler past a sprawling Stefan Cleveland in the Chicago goal to give the Cityzens a 1-0 lead in the 47th minute.
It was just Ring’s second goal of the season, adding to his tally that he scored all the way back on April 15 against Atlanta.
“I mean, it’s always nice to score. I don’t score often, everyone knows that, so it feels special,” said Ring. “The most important thing is that we clinched the playoff spot today and we have to be happy about that and now we have a couple of games to find our rhythm.”
After playing the role of provider, Villa quickly returned to being the lethal goal-scorer that he has been throughout his career, latching on to a through ball from Moralez before unleashing a low right-footed drive into the far corner to double New York’s lead in the 51st minute.
“In the first 30 minutes, we didn’t play fast – we played very slowly when we had the ball,” Torrent said. “We improved a lot in the second half especially. In the first half, we defend deep and in the second half we were compact and we were able to recover many balls and create many chances.”
Chicago just managed two shots on target for the entire game, and also had a goal later in the second half called back when striker Nemanja Nikolic strayed just offside before his sliding finish past NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
The loss, which snapped a three-game unbeaten streak, also mathematically eliminated Chicago from postseason contention in the Eastern Conference.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Wednesday evening’s game, with all photos taken by A Lot of Sports Talk senior photographer Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 24 pictures in total.