Alex Callens celebrates his first NYCFC goal in the 85th minute. (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX — Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens might have been down at times, but they certainly weren’t out of it for New York City FC Saturday.
Both center backs took a hard knock or two, wound up playing with pain and then wound up playing offensive hero in a game in which City needed those three points.
They played with pain and turned into a pain for the visiting Union in the waning minutes of the MLS match at Yankee Stadium.
Chanot, who embarks on a journey to Luxembourg to prepare for a World Cup qualifying match next Saturday, hit on the equalizer in the 80th minute.
Callens, a Colombian, slotted home a rebound of a shot past goalkeeper Andre Blake five minutes later to seal the victory and Philly’s fate.
“We didn’t accept the defeat and we fought back,” head coach Patrick Vieira said. “I’m really proud of this team.”
And particularly of Chanot and Callens, who refused to leave the field despite their injuries. And of course, it was a good thing for NYCFC, as well, because they were able perform their 11th-hour heroics.
“I’m really happy for Maxime and Alex to score those goals because lately the goals that we conceded, they take it a little bit personal,” Vieira said. “You saw the problem that Alex had with his shoulder. He played with pain. He didn’t want to come off. That is a sign of strength of a player. More than anyone else, I’m really glad that these two center backs scored because they’ve been working, sacrificing themselves for the team.”
The team needed some sacrifice from any player because of the underachieving results of the past two matches. That included a 3-1 loss at Atlanta United last Sunday and a rather discouraging 2-2 home draw with the New England Revolution Wednesday night, a result that saw City lose the lead twice, including late.
“We were tired from the schedule of the last four games,” Chanot said. “It was not easy. We were so disappointed in the last game against New England. We dropped two points in the last five minutes. We had to react, for the coach, everybody.”
It was Chanot who got injured first, as he was hit on the back of his right thigh in the opening 10 minutes. The game was stopped while he was worked on.
“After 10 minutes I couldn’t run,” said Chanot, who got some treatment by a trainer at his locker after the game. “I felt very bad in my legs but the same when you’re a man, you have to fight for yourself and for the team. I couldn’t leave my teammates like that.”
In the 42nd minute, Callens fell on his right shoulder and he was in pain. He got into a disagreement with the team doctor and refused to come out of the match.
“There was a lot of pain,” Callens said. “The doctor wanted me to go out, but I wanted to continue.”
It turned out to be a rather unforgettable first half for so many reasons, beyond the injuries because scoring opportunities were at a premium. The game’s momentum picked up in the second half.
In fact, Philly (4-6-4, 16) gave City a wake-up call on Fafa Picault’s 69th-minute goal.
“When people score goals, you always feel a little bad.” Chanot said. It’s the best answer to score goals to bring the team in a good way for the next few games.”
Meanwhile, Vieira brought on Costa Rican right back Ronald Matarrita and rookie attacking options Sean Okoli and Jonathan Lewis to give the team some fresh legs and a lift.
It could not have worked much better and more dramatically. After all, how many times do center backs scored in the same game, let alone five minutes apart?
Both goals were scored via Maxi Moralez corner kicks to finally solve the spectacular Andre Blake, last year’s MLS goalkeeper of the year.
“He was fabulous,” Vieira said.
Chanot and Callens were just a little better.
First, Chanot found just enough room between two defenders to head Moralez’s corner kick past in the 80th minute. Callens put home a rebound from close range for the game-winner five minutes later.
During his goal celebration, Callens’ teammates hugged him tightly, but the pain did not worsen. Scoring goals will do that.
“It was adrenaline, so I didn’t feel it that much at that moment,” he said.
NYCFC gets some time off during the upcoming World Cup qualifying break. Chanot, however, flies off to Europe Sunday morning to play for Luxembourg at the Netherlands in a UEFA qualifier next Saturday.
“I cross my fingers to make sure I can be fit for this and be fit for when I come back to New York,” he said.
City will need him. The team will face Hudson River Derby rival the Red Bulls in a Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup match June 14. Four days later, NYCFC will welcome defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders to the stadium.
That team features a pair of U.S. international strikers — Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris. Chanot, Callens and company will have to be in tip-top shape to contend with the likes of those goal-scorers.