NYCFC players celebrate Maxi Moralez’s winning goal. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX — In only his third game as New York City FC head coach, Domenec Torrent accomplished something the departed Patrick Vieira couldn’t do in two Hudson River Derby matches this year:
He beat the Red Bulls.
Now it must be noted that City’s 1-0 win over the Red Bulls wasn’t the prettiest of games, but until MLS hands out points for aesthetically pleasing performances, the result, before a season-high 30,027 fans at Yankee Stadium, will suffice.
That might go double since the Red Bulls handled NYCFC a pair of 4-0 thrashings earlier this season — in the league May 5 and in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup June 6.
“Playing in front of a packed house, I’m pretty sure our fans would not be happy if we lost the third one to them,” said Jonathan Lewis, whose cross set up Maxi Moralez’s 85th-minute goal.
“It was an amazing game, maybe not the best quality, but we played against one of the best team,” Torrent said.
It certainly didn’t hurt that NYCFC shut down its No. 1 nemesis Bradley Wright-Phillips, who never came close to making goalkeeper Sean Johnson sweat. Wright-Phillips entered the match with 11 goals in 14 appearances against City.
“I think I was just keeping everything in front of us,” said goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who recorded his sixth clean sheet of the season. “We got into trouble when things start to turn our back on the space between myself and the central defenders. So the main focus was keeping things compact tonight.”
The game sometimes was brutal to watch as both sides struggling to put quality chances on net. It wasn’t until the 85th minute that Moralez found the range, scoring from eight yards after Lewi, a second-half substitute, threaded him a pass from the right flank.
“The last 20 minutes we were in trouble,” Torrent said. “I decided to play 4-4-2 with a fast player like Jonathan. I’m very proud of our players. It was not easy to play in this intensity and they played with soul. The most important thing, I say many times, you have to play with passion in derbies especially.”
Which was enough on a night that lacked qualifying scoring opportunities, but no one was complaining in the NYCFC locker room after the hosts won their third consecutive home derby match.
“You know, no matter who we play against, it’s always sweeter against the Red Bulls,” defender Ben Sweat said. “We always have that in the back of our minds. But you know, we went out there and we executed our game plan. We were physical. We worked hard. And that’s how we have to be at home. That’s the standard, the work rate. Nothing less than that the rest of the year and we’ll see how far we go.”
Now NYCFC can breath a bit of a sigh of relief before preparing for its next challenge. It will be against the Montreal Impact at the stadium Wednesday night, the second of three home games within a week. City also will meet Columbus Crew SC at home Saturday night.
The pressure is on the hosts to secure a minimum of six points during this unusual three-games in seven-day stretch at home.
“It pushes us forward a lot more,” Lewis said. “I think that’s a big monkey off our back after we just beat them. Now we look forward to Wednesday’s and Saturday’s game.”