NYCFC players celebrate Ben Sweat’s goal, his first in MLS. (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — New York City FC left Red Bull Arena Saturday with three points in its back pocket for the first time in its history.
But if the City players were gloating, at least in public, about their first win in five attempts here, they were not showing it.
They were just happy and relieved they snapped a four-match losing streak here in which they were outscored, 9-2, since the Hudson River Derby began in 2015.
So it was a sweet victory, correct?
Maybe, maybe not.
“Victory is not more sweeter than the last win in Seattle,” NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira said, referring to last week’s home triumph over the defending MLS champions. “We came over with a good game plan, and I’m really satisfied. I’m really satisfied because of course we managed to win the game, we took the three points and I think we played really well. We created a few chances, we scored, and it was a really good team performance.”
“Finally, the three points is so good for us,” captain David Villa said.
The win, third-place City’s third in a row in the league, gave it a seven-point lead (9-5-3, 30 points) over its rivals, the fifth-place Red Bulls (7-8-2, 23) in the Eastern Conference.
“Probably our most complete performance in this stretch of the season,” said goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who recorded his fourth clean sheet this season.
Viera devised a perfect game-plan. The Red Bulls have forged a reputation as a high-pressure team, yet it was NYCFC that turned the tables on the hosts.
“We wanted to make them play long ball and to press really high,” Vieira said. “But I think today our game plan and the way we wanted to press didn’t change from the last game. I think players just wanted to win this game so much that they put a really hard work today.”
Just as importantly, City shutdown Red Bulls star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who rarely got the ball in the penalty area and did not take a shot.
“We didn’t put our concentration and focus only on one player,” Vieria said. “We know how Phillips is. He’s a talented player. You give him the space and he’s going to score. I think Alex and Maxime defended really well. They played very well. We didn’t give him space to express his talent.”
Villa wouldn’t say if the game might be a turning point in the derby series. After all, the Red Bulls still own a 6-2 lead, but winning in your rivals’ house is a big deal.
“We need to play against them two times more,” he said. “I always say the same; the games are different. When you play, the conditions of the game, the moment of the play. We are very happy to take these three points because in this moment it is really important for us. The Red Bulls are one of the rivals fighting for the playoffs. We lead the Red Bulls by seven points. More than that is try not to let Toronto and Chicago go forward. It is important for to be close to them.”