Can Ben Sweat provide some more scoring heroics, this time against Minnesota? (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
PURCHASE, N.Y. — If New York City FC is going to suffer a letdown, this game would be a logical candidate.
After dispatching defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders and Hudson River Derby rival the Red Bulls on consecutive weekends, City hosts Minnesota United at Yankee Stadium Thursday night.
Yep, the same expansion team that struggled at the beginning of this season, but has rebounded of late.
Still, after two big emotional wins on back-to-back weekends, it would be a natural tendency to lose some of that focus for a team that has more downs than ups this season.
NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira certainly hopes that’s not the case.
The challenge is to see if we can play two games with the same intensity in a row,” he said earlier this week during training at SUNY-Purchase. “If we don’t have the same concentration and focus that we had against the Red Bulls, we’re not going to have a chance of winning the game against Minnesota because we need to be good.”
City polished off Seattle, 2-1, June 17 before recording its first derby victory over the Red Bulls, 1-0, at Red Bull Arena Saturday.
With no other team on the schedule Thursday, NYCFC (9-5-3, 30 points) can creep within two points of first-place Toronto FC (10-2-5, 35) and one point of second-place Chicago Fire (10-3-4, 34) with a win.
The hosts will look to extend a couple of positive streaks. It has won three league matches in a row as it tries to tie its record of four consecutive wins.
They also are also riding a four-game league undefeated streak, one game shy of the club record set last April 27-May 18. And let’s not forget a four-match home undefeated streak as well.
Ninth-place Minnesota (5-9-3) has not won on the road this season, while NYCFC has lost but once at home (5-1-2).
“We need to play well and we need to work really hard if we want to win games because when you look at all the teams in the league, they have good players, really good structure,” Vieira said. “So the domination and hard work has to be the minimum that players can keep. That is what I want.”
Minnesota’s defense was sieve at the start of the season, but the visitors have gotten their act together recently.
The Loons’ defenders will have their hands full trying to contain the likes of David Villa (10 goals) and Jack Harrison (seven goals), even if playmaking midfielder Maxi Moralez is unavailable due to his calf injury.
“They have a good team,” Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath said. “Obviously, they’re really well coached. … It’s going to be difficult for us. They’ve got really good attacking pieces.”
While Minnesota is making its first appearance at the stadium, Heath is quite familiar with it, coaching against City when he was Orlando City’s head coach in its maiden season in 2015.
“A lot of people don’t like going to New York City. I love going there,” he said. “You know it’s quite unique in the fact being that it is a baseball stadium, albeit one of the most famous in the world. I think a lot has been made about the size of the field. Is it ideal? No. But I think people make excuses.”
Vieira has been encouraged by competition for the Starting XI, which has been fierce in training.
“As a coach is that nobody is guaranteed to play,” he said. We have players on the bench that are challenging the ones that started. So what I am really pleased is that players are working really hard, really well. They are waiting for the opportunity and they take it.
He used Ben Sweat’s recent performances as a example. The defender set up NYCFC’s first goal and scored the second against the Red Bulls.
“Ben is a really good example of those players,” Vieira said, adding that players “put their head down, working really hard and he’s playing really well. That’s really good for the team and this is how we’re going to achieve our goals.”