David Villa celebrates his 11th goal of the season. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

BRONX — New York City FC just keeps chugging along.

Despite not having its top playmaker for the third consecutive game and head coach Patrick Vieira deciding to bench a pair of defensive starters at the last minute, City continued to play some of the best soccer in MLS.

Case in point:

NYCFC’s solid 3-1 triumph over Minnesota United at Yankee Stadium Thursday night.

After getting off to a slow start and allowing the struggling expansion team to grab an early lead, the hosts got stronger as the game went on, en route to its fourth consecutive victory.

City remained in third place in the Eastern Conference, but moved closer to first-place Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire, who were idle Thursday night.

After recording two vital wins over defending league champion Seattle Sounders and the rival Red Bulls in the Hudson River Derby the past two weeks, head coach Patrick Vieira was concerned about having a letdown against a first-year side that has allowed a league-high goals this season.

They eventually were erased before a crowd of 21,572.

“I enjoyed more of this game than the last game against the Red Bulls,” Vieira said.

Asked why, he responded, “The way we fought back and the way we kept our concentration higher.”

Vieira added that he was “really pleased. We showed a lot of charatcher today. It was a challenge for the players to show we can play with a lot of intensity. We played really well. I was really pleased with the way we worked hard together.”

So well that several writers agreed it was difficult to determine a player of the game because NYCFC played so well across the board.

You could have made a case for center back Alex Callens, who recorded his second goal of the season — in the last four matches — to equalize from six yards in the 38th minute after Christian Ramirez’s 10th goal boosted Minnesota into the lead.

You could have made a case for striker Jack Harrison, who scored the tie-breaking goal — No. eight for him — in the 52nd minute.

You could have made a case for captain David Villa, who tallied the insurance goal — his team-best 11th — in the 63rd minute.

You could have made a case for CONCACAF Gold Cup-bound forward Rodney Wallace, who set up Harrison’s goal.

Ditto for Mikey Lopez, Tommy McNamara, Maxime Chanot, Alex Ring and Ben Sweat.

OK, you get the idea.

“Yeah, it’s a good run for us,” Harrison said. “I think we’re really coming together as a team right now.”

It would be difficult to argue against that.

Goals from Alexander Callens Asin, Jack Harrison, and David Villa Sánchez lead the way as #NYCFC wins their fourth Major League Soccer (MLS) game in a row…HIGHLIGHTS ⬇️

تم نشره بواسطة ‏‎New York City FC‎‏ في 29 يونيو، 2017

Video courtesy of NYCFC’s Facebook page

“We showed a lot of character today,” Villa said. We are happy for today. We are in a good period but in soccer everything changes day by day.”

Vieira was forced to make two changes prior to kickoff as R.J. Allen and Ethan White, who were slated to start as outside backs, were benched because they were late to a team meeting, according to radio reports. Vieira wouldn’t confirm that, but NYCFC did not miss a miss without them.

“Patrick does a great job keeping everyone on the same page and it shows,” said Sweat, who set up Callens goal. “Everyone plays together, works together, and it’s fun. It’s way more fun that way and winning is even a better feeling because you know, we deserve it after working that hard and sacrificing that much and tonight was another fantastic display of it.”

With regular goalkeeper Sean Johnson with the United States team at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Eirik Johansen was called into duty for the first time this season. He got off to a shaky start when he spilled a shot from distance from Johan Venegas, allowing Ramirez to ram the ball home from three yards in the ninth minute.

“When you don’t play very often as goalkeeper, I think you find it really difficult especially in the first 20 minutes, just to get used to the game,” Vieira said. “The goal that we conceded, we could do better, but I was really pleased with the reaction that he had after that. A few times he came out at a really important period in the game for us. I was really pleased with his reaction. I think he showed good character.”

Good character. Hmmm, that sounded like the theme of the night for NYCFC.

Scoring Summary:
09’ – MNU: Christian Ramirez
38’ – NYC: Alexander Callens (Assisted By: Ben Sweat)
52’ – NYC: Jack Harrison (Assisted By: Rodney Wallace, Thomas McNamara)
63’ – NYC: David Villa (Assisted By: Jack Harrison)
Disciplinary Summary:
23’ – MNU: Kevin Molino (Yellow Card)
45’+4′ – NYC: David Villa (Yellow Card)
45’+4′ – MNU: Johan Venegas (Yellow Card)
68’ – NYC: Rodney Wallace (Yellow Card)
Lineups:    
New York City FC: Eirik Johansen; Ronald Matarrita (9’ Mikey Lopez), Callens, Chanot, Sweat; Alexander Ring, Yangel Herrera, Thomas McNamara (84’ Frederic Brillant); Jack Harrison, Rodney Wallace (78’ Andrea Pirlo); David Villa (C)
Substitutions Not Used: Andre Rawls, RJ Allen, Miguel Camargo, Sean Okoli
Minnesota United FC: Bobby Shuttleworth; Kevin Venegas, Jermaine Taylor, Francisco Calvo, Jerome Thiesson; Sam Cronin, Ibson, Johan Venegas, Kevin Molinio, Miguel Ibarra (73’ Ismaila Jome); Christian Ramirez
Substitutions Not Used: Patrick McLain, Justin Davis, Rasmus Schuller, Collen Warner, Bashkim Kadrii, Collin Martin