Not all went perfectly through the six-game span for City. Even with positive results, the scoring ability was still under par for a strong Eastern Conference contender. New York’s scoreless draws against DC United and the New England Revolution showed that despite winning points on the road, NYCFC needed to do more on the offensive side, scoring early and often.
Following the draw in New England, City returned to Red Bull Arena as they welcomed Toronto FC for the third meeting of the year. The first meeting came in the second match of the season, before the schedule was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
A 1-0 loss was one of many poor results early in the year, but City responded in the MLS is Back Tournament. City bounced TFC from the knockout stage with a 3-1 win, though the game would have no impact on the regular season.
NYCFC’s offense was hungry in the first half, creating plenty of chances on goal in the opening 30 minutes. To City’s dismay, Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono put on a stellar performance, denying every shot on goal, with other shots rolling just wide of the goalposts. The score was level at the half, with both goalkeepers working hard to preserve the 0-0 draw.
A similar storyline played out for most of the second half. Once again City looked dangerous on the ball, with Heber adding to the shot total after coming on as a substitution. Again, Bono made save after save in the Toronto net, while NYC goalkeeper Sean Johnson came up big each time he was called upon.
Disaster struck for City late in the match. With under ten minutes left to play, a ball over the Toronto defense was controlled by Heber, but the linesman called him offside. The Brazilian striker took a clumsy tumble before grasping his right knee.
City’s fears were confirmed after the final whistle. Heber had torn his ACL, ending his season and throwing a wrench into an already poor offensive situation.
The bad luck wasn’t done yet. Newcomer Nicolas Acevedo replaced the injured Heber, but a shot bounced off his arm in the final minutes of play, awarding Toronto a late penalty. Alejandro Pozuelo calmly stepped up and placed the ball in the corner, making Toronto 1-0 winners over NYCFC for the second time this year.
For New York, attention shifted to the weekend contest with FC Cincinnati to bounce back from the defeat. Cincinnati has been unable to escape the Eastern Conference basement in their early years since being granted expansion, similar to NYCFC’s first years in MLS.
Right after the referee’s whistle sounded, NYCFC were down to business. In the blink of an eye, Alexandru Mitrita found himself in space, receiving a pass from Anton Tinnerholm. Mitrita’s first touch was brilliant, putting the ball past Kendall Waston and into the box.
Just 30 seconds into the match, the Romanian newcomer put City up 1-0, setting a new record for fastest goal scored in franchise history.
After trading chances with Cincinnati, Tinnerholm got himself on the board to double the lead. The Swedish defender picked the ball up on an overlapping run before darting into the box and sliding the ball inside the front post.
The barrage continued right before the half, with Mitrita receiving a pass inside the box before cooly slotting it home for a 3-0 lead.
At the end of a much more quiet second half, New York finished the rout. A free kick at the top of the box was driven low by Jesus Medina, skipping off the wall of Cincinnati defenders and into the bottom corner.
The 4-0 win is the biggest margin of victory this year for City, with Sean Johnson collecting his 5th clean sheet since the regular season restart.
The big win capped by Mitrita’s brace is reassuring to fans concerned not only about Heber’s injury, but about their new signing’s lack of scoring. Despite facing a weak Cincinnati squad, NYCFC needed a big win to get momentum moving again.
With the recent unbeaten run, some parallels can be drawn to the early days of Domè Torrent’s time coaching the squad. Similarly to the previous head coach, Ronny Deila did not see a smooth transition to MLS.
Deila’s NYCFC has suffered a few more early defeats than Torrent’s 2019 squad, but with the team finally clicking like they did last year, now may be the time for Deila and City to make a statement.
NYCFC sits at 6-2-6 ahead of this weekend’s contest against Inter Miami, good for sixth place in the East. NYC defeated Miami 1-0 in the MLS is Back group stage, but just weeks after the match Miami bolstered their roster.
Two European stars have landed in South Beach in French midfielder Blaise Matuidi and Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain. While Miami has floundered early in their inaugural season, City must be careful to control the match against a team hungry for a big result with star signings looking to make an impact.
NYCFC travel to Florida this Saturday, with their contest with Inter Miami kicking off at 8 p.m. On Tuesday, they return to Red Bull Arena to host DC United in their second matchup of the year.