David Villa (right) celebrates his goal against Atlanta United (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
By Christian Arnold
BRONX, N.Y. – It was a minute span in the second half that saw New York City FC take the lead and then all but seal a win over Atlanta United on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Rodney Wallace persevered in the 60th minute to give NYCFC the 2-1 lead and then a minute later Maxi Morález buried a shot past Alex Kahn to put the home side ahead by two. The 3-1 victory was the City’s third win in its last five games and boosted the team into third place in the Eastern Conference through its first nine matches (5-3-1, 16 points).
Wallace’s go-ahead goal was impressive, not only for the almost coincidental way the feed from Ethan White bounced off Wallace’s foot, but also considering the attacker had been denied three times in the opening minute of the second half.
“You gotta just let it go,” Wallace said, referring to the three early chances in the half. “Use it as some fuel and move forward, and try to get another one.”
And that was the case in the 60th minute when White sent a cross inside the box that connected with Wallace’s foot for the goal. Wallace immediately sprinted to the corner, slid and pumped his fist in celebration.
“A great cross by Ethan White,” Wallace said. “I was in the box. … David tried to get a touch on it and luckily it fell to me, and went into the back of the net.”
Wallace helped set up New York’s third goal a minute later when he sent a pass to Morález, who put the ball past a sprawling Kahn.
While Wallace had a strong second half performance, it was Villa that sent the tone early for NYCFC. Villa, who signed a one-year contract extension with NYCFC earlier in the week, dominated the first half.
Of the team’s four shots on goal, Villa had three of them, which included the opening goal in the 17th minute.
A quick touch by Wallace sent the ball to Villa, who stormed into the box uncontested. The Spanish international took a shot from 14 yards and saw the ball ring off the right post and ricochet into the net for his sixth goal.
Villa nearly scored his second goal of the game three minutes later when a chip shot from midfield gave keeper Alec Kann a bit of a scare, but missed the net wide left. Villa gave Atlanta another scare in the 25th minute, but Kahn came away with the save.
“We did well today,” Villa said about the team’s performance, shying away from his own accomplishments. “It’s one of the, if not, one of the best games in our season. We had chances to score more goals. We played well. We don’t concede a lot, they scored a goal, but they scored a great amazing goa. … The performance of the team was amazing.”
While Villa shied away from commenting on his own performance, NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira called him an “important player.”
“When he plays the way he played today lifting the team, he is one of our leaders,” Vieira said. “When he plays like he did today, the confidence builds in the team and that’s why it’s important for him to be at this level every single game.
“It’s good for the team, and I think when you have a really good structure and you have people around working hard, that really expresses talent.”
Atlanta’s only goal of the game came in the 39th minute off the foot of Carlos Carmona. It was the only goal that went by keeper Sean Johnson. He finished making four saves on five shots on target by Atlanta.
The win sends City off on a four-game road swing on a positive note. NYCFC will travel to Dallas, Sandy, Utah, Orlando and Atlanta before returning to Yankee Stadium May 31 to face New England.