Andrea Pirlo’s mistake led to Portland’s goal in the 1-0 result. V(incent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX, N.Y. — When they made a highlight video of Andrea Pirlo’s marvelous career, they certain won use this game or particular play.
Not the way he lost the ball, not the way he reacted to it and not the way he defended. in what turned into Diego Valeri’s goal in a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers at Yankee Stadium Saturday night.
The defeat essentially eliminated second-place NYCFC (15-8-5, 50 points) from the Supporters Shield and Eastern Conference race, barring a miracle comeback as the team trails front-runner Toronto FC (17-3-8, 59) by nine points. The Reds rolled over the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday night, 4-0.
For the second home game within four days, NYCFC played without three vital starters who were injured — MLS goal-scoring leader David Villa, defensive midfielder Alex Ring and central midfielder Yangel Herrera.
If they were in the Starting XI, perhaps the result would have been different. Perhaps Pirlo would not have been on the field to make that mistake.
This is what transpired in the 44th minute:
Pirlo had the ball on the left side, but Darren Maddocks nicked it away from him and bolted down the flank. The unmarked Jamaica international crossed the ball into an open Valerio, who struck a 13-yard shot into the left corner while defender RJ Allen ran to deny him. But it was too late as Valeri tied a league mark by scored in his seventh consecutive game.
Instead of trying to defend after losing the ball, the 38-year-old Pirlo raised both arms, trying to get the attention of the referee and slapped his side.
No one, however, was about to criticize the Italian living legend — Pirlo has won a World Cup (2006), two UEFA Champions League crowns and was voted Serie A player of the year three times — not even his coach.
“I think it happened that he lost the ball,” head coach Patrick Vieira said. “It just so happened that this time it was Andrea. A lot of players have lost the ball in a really difficult area, but it happened that we conceded the goal. That’s part of the game. You make a mistake and you get punished right away. We have players who make mistakes and make the wrong decision, and sometimes we concede the goal and sometimes we don’t concede the goal, but that is not the reason why we lost the game.”
Vieira later added: “I thought Andrea had a really good game.”
But it certainly was 10 seconds to forget.
“Valeri is not a player that you want in front of an open goal so you just try to make yourself get a corner cross as quick as you can,” City goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “You just do what you can do keep the ball from the back of the net.”
When the NYCFC locker room was opened to the media, Pirlo already had split and was unavailable for comment.
As it turned out, many of his teammates also had left.
Johnson, who was getting his left leg treated by a team trainer by his locker after superb seven-save performance, was one of the remaining starters.
He did not take his teammate to task.
“We tried our best to cover as much of the goal as possible, but he [Valeri] is a clever player and was able to finish one,” he said. “These things happen. At the end of the day, they were excellent at getting to the goal and finishing. We had the same opportunities … but we weren’t able to convert. It’s every player’s job to have the next man’s back and we tried our best to do that.”