New York City FC lost 1-0 to the Columbus Crew on opening weekend. Despite the defeat, however, the team showed fight and grit, which provides reason to hope for the season ahead.
The first Major League Soccer game of 2020 for New York City FC was expected to be the start of a fantastic 2020 season. Unfortunately, this was cut short when center-back Maxime Chanot received a red card in the third minute. The veteran clipped the heels of Columbus Crew’s Lucas Zelarayán, impeding a goal-scoring opportunity. NYCFC played with a man disadvantage for the remainder of the match, entirely altering head coach Ronny Deila’s gameplan.
The team then took a more defensive approach, which limited their attacking opportunities. They held just under 38% of the possession and had seven shots total. Predominantly, the Pigeons held themselves together and kept the Crew away from goal. But a defensive error from Alex Ring allowed Zelarayán to score an exquisite shot into the far corner, handing the Crew the lead and the decisive winner.
And while the Pigeons attacking opportunities were few, the attacking third was lackluster until the final 15 minutes of the game. Forward Héber could not produce the magic from his first CCL game and lost the ball numerous of times, while the Crew limited NYCFC’s chances well, recovering the ball in the Pigeons’ attacking third time and again.
When Valentín Castellanos came on in the 70th minute, NYCFC’s attacking opportunities did increase. With the game entering the latter stages, New York City FC played with a little more attacking endeavour, but chances were still limited.
Despite the loss, NYCFC were able to hold their own while down to ten players. Defensively, they were primarily sturdy and compact, and they revealed their continued improvement from the first game against A.D. San Carlos. Lines were held, 25 vital clearances were made, and Sean Johnson’s five saves kept the team in the game. Notably, center-back Alexander Callens made a major clearance when Johnson saved a header from Crew’s Pedro Santos in the 81st minute. This defensive work between the two was critical throughout.
Given the circumstances, this result could have been a whole lot worse for New York City FC. They did not let the Crew run them into the ground, refused to give up, and showed a hidden resilience and grit to keep themselves in the game. Their commitment and passion was illuminated by their defensive efforts, and it should boost confidence around the club for the year ahead.
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This does not mean that fans should recklessly now believe in NYCFC. They did, after all, lose. And next week, they travel to Toronto FC, where they have struggled in the past. Moreover, Chanot’s red card means he will not be available, while Sebastien Ibeagha suffered an injury in the second half which forced the substitute to leave the game. Currently, there is no update on his status, so it is unknown whether he will available next week, but it is fair to assume that he will not be at full fitness.
If Ibeagha is unable to play, NYCFC would be without two center-backs. James Sands can play center-back and the versatile Tony Rocha can act as depth across the backline, but the options are slim, to say the least.
Nevertheless, given the talent they have in the squad, allied with the fighting spirit and positive attitude that they showed in defeat here, there is still reason for NYCFC to be hopeful for the year to come.
New York City FC might have lost their first game, but how they played with ten men expressed their talent and commitment to each other. And that, more than the result, might be more significant for Deila and the 2020 season.