Gabriel Pereira celebrates his goal. (Griffin Zetterberg-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Things were looking up for New York City FC.
Twice the Cityzens battled back from one-goal deficits on the road with hopes of walking out of …. stadium with a nice road point on Saturday night.
But their hopes dissipated in the 74th minute as Richy Ledezma scored an own goal that boosted Charlotte FC to a 3-2 MLS victory.
Fifth-place NYCFC (4-4-3, 15 points) remained winless on the road at 0-4-2 while Charlotte (12) improved to 3-5-3.
Ledezma’s miscue came off of Karol Swiderski’s free kick from the right side. Trying to clear the ball, the midfielder headed the ball into the left corner of the net beyond the reach of goalkeeper Luis Barraza.
NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing, however, refused to blame Ledezma.
“It’s not Richy’s fault,” he said. “It’s a moment in the game, and of course we want to be better on set-plays. That’s the one area that if we’re better in this game, we win the game.”
Cushing was more upset with the fact City played a solid game, but had problems defending set pieces, which doomed his team.
“I was pleased with our performance, and I was pleased with the desire and the soul of the team,” he said. “Of course, I’m not happy with conceding two goals on the road from set-play – you concede two goals on the road from set-play, and you don’t win football games.
“The guys in the locker room are pretty down and pretty disappointed because everything we wanted to do in the game, we did. “I thought we carried the game. We dominate the game again away from home, we get into some really good areas, we create some chances – we’d like to create more – but [the own-goal] is unfortunate.”
Enzo Copetti scored twice in the opening half for Charlotte, while Gabriel Pereira and Santiago Rodriguez (penalty kick) found the net for the visitors.
Copetti drew first blood for the hosts in the ninth minute as he put in a McKinze Gaines shot past Barazza in the ninth minute.
City equalized in the 37th minute as Ledezma set up Pereira, who beat keeper Kristijan Kahlina for a 1-1 deadlock.
Two minutes later, however, Charlotte retook the lead at 2-1 when Copetti secured his brace, heading in Justin Meram’s corner kick.
NYCFC again tied the match up in the 57th minute as Rodriguez converted a penalty kick, his third goal in as many contests, after Braian Cufre was upended by Adilson.Malanda in the box.
That set up a disappointing end for the Cityzens, who will play three games within an eight-day span this week. That includes a Lamar Hunt Open Cup match on Wednesday and a a Hudson River Derby against the Red Bulls next Saturday night.
“There are two areas of the game that I think we can improve: one is set-play – we have to get better,” Cushing said. “You cannot give two goals away, away from home and expect to win football games.
“The second one is to create clear chances. If we create chances from the moments that we have, then we’ll win football games, but I was pleased with our offensive game today. I just want more because I always will.
“The nature of our league is: home advantage is a big plus for you, so we know the away games are more complex, but I was really pleased with the performance, and the reaction from a Toronto performance that was a little bit flat, and not as sharp as we would want.
“It’s small moments, but the the margins are so small in our league, and home advantage means that if you give those moments, you give teams momentum – but if we play like that away from home over and over again, we’ll win football games.”