Khiry Shelton got a goal in the 91st minute to help New York City Football Club complete an impressive comeback and get a 2-2 tie against the Chicago Fire on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
Shelton said of scoring the goal, his first in the MLS, “The effort that David (Villa) and everyone showed tonight was big, the goal was a team effort. It definitely builds confidence, I still have a lot of stuff to work on and I know that going forward it will be big for me.”
Even though the New York City FC winless streak reached nine games, this felt like a win as they got a point out of a game that looked like it could have been real ugly in the early stages. They have not won since March 15th, when they won the home opener, and they now have 1 win, 4 draws, and 6 losses, for a total of 7 points.
Chicago put pressure on right from the start, and it appeared they had a goal in the 7th minute, when Shaun Maloney, right next to the post, tipped in a shot off a rebound from a save by NYC FC goalie Josh Saunders. Maloney was ruled offsides, as he was past the last NYC defender and it invalidated the goal.
Chicago kept pushing, and in the 14th minute, Maloney had a free kick and he found Razvan Cocis for a header to give the Fire a 1-0 lead. Chicago got three corner kicks in the 17th minute, but couldn’t cash in and through 20 minutes, they had 10 shots to 0 for NYC.
In the 27th minute, NYC FC defender Chris Wingert made a bad pass to R.J. Allen at the center line, and David Accam stole it and got a breakaway. Allen caught up with him and took him down as Accam hit the crease right in front of Saunders, who came out to play it. Allen received a red card, putting NYC down a man and gave Chicago a penalty kick. Jeff Larentowicz took the kick and buried it to make it 2-0 Chicago.
As the first half neared its end, it was looking like the worst half NYC had played all year, as they were outshot 14-2 and put little to no pressure on the opposing end. But then, out of nowhere, in the 46th minute, David Villa got an opening, fired a rocket that was stopped by Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson. The rebound kicked over to Mehdi Ballouchy, who came in from the left side and he drilled it to pull NYC within 2-1 heading into halftime.
New York City FC Head Coach Jason Kreis said of that changing the momentum of the game, “Goals can come at really critical moments in matches. Early in the match, as we saw last week, that really took the wind out of our sails a bit. Scoring right before halftime really shifts the momentum and sends us into the locker room thinking we can do this.”
Ballouchy said of his goal providing a spark, “I think, yeah, the timing of it might have been the best thing. I think, just to do it right before halftime, where we come in and kind of get a pep talk and get ourselves and get back out there, I think the timing was definitely very good for us.”
NYC FC goalie Josh Saunders did an amazing job keeping them in the game in the first half, as he saw many point-blank opportunities from Chicago. Saunders said of that, “I credit my trainer, but at the same time, the chances that we were limiting them to were favorable for me, so yeah, the defense did a good job of shading guys in the right direction, so I think our team did a very good job and our midfield did a good job of pushing them outside to create less chances.” On not many of those chances being screened, Saunders said, “Exactly, they were available chances that I had good sight of the ball.”
In the second half, New York City started to apply more pressure, as David Villa had quality chances in the 66th and 7th minutes. Also, after not getting any calls in the first half, the Fire were given two yellow cards within a minute. In the 61st, Joeven Jones got a yellow for a challenge on Mix Diskerud, and Shaun Maloney got a yellow for a challenge on Andrew Jacobson.
Chicago also got chances, but nowhere close to the sustained pressure they had in the first half. In the 74th minute, David Accam had a chance, but Saunders saw it all the way, and they had another strong chance in the 90th minute.
In the 91st minute, NYC forwards were clustered at the top of the crease with Chicago defenders, but Villa found an opening, and got a pass to Shelton, who kept his shot low and it got under Johnson to tie the game and send Yankee Stadium into a frenzy.
NYC FC defender Chris Wingert on if this was the signature moment of the season, as it felt like a walk-off (taken from baseball, we know where they play, “Well, the only thing I would say is, in a sense I wish it was a walk-off, but to be honest, we had to keep playing, so that’a a big part of it too, you’ve got to make sure you don’t lose your focus because there’s another five minutes left, so that was a big thing we talked about even as guys are celebrating – let’s make sure that we focus here and finish the game out. If they come back and score, that would have been devastating, so we had to make sure that we hung in there and finished the game out and, I know a lot of the guys were kind of eager to try to go on and win the match, but at the same time, you want to make sure you preserve the point that you worked so hard to get after being down two goals and a man. Yeah, certainly one of them (signature moments), I mean, I don’t know, you could argue, first goal, first win at Yankee Stadium, hopefully there’ll be more signature moments, more positive ones throughout the year.”
Wingert said of taking a tough first half and getting a point out of the game, “Yeah, we’re clearly very happy with the result after going down a man and two goals. I think it’s a testament to the fight of the team, and led by our Captain, I mean, David (Villa) was unbelievable today, the effort he put forward in a role I think he’s not maybe used to in terms of having guys kicking him and draped all over him and trying to hold the ball up for us because we had to play a little more direct than we’d normally like to since we were down a man and he was just an animal up there. You could see his work rate and his effort and everybody followed suit. I think that inspired everybody right up until the last minute. I think there was a lot of belief there, I think there was a lot of belief that we could come back and get a result even considering the circumstances.”
New York City FC Head Coach Jason Kreis said afterwards of David Villa and the team’s hard work paying off with a late goal, “I’d say that the entire team [earned it]. It’s not fair to single out anybody. There were quite a few players that really were willing to do anything tonight to get us that result. It was incredibly important. I think it’s one of the more special moments of my coaching career, to be honest. To be two goals down and a man down for as long as we were and to come back and draw shows what kind of character this group has.”
Kreis said on what tonight’s result means going forward, “I’m very hopeful that this is set as sort of a landmark for our group so that they understand that they can get results if they’re willing to do whatever it takes. I need them to understand and believe that we’re good enough if we work that hard. And if we don’t work that hard, we’re not going to be good enough.”
Kreis said of the team giving an extra effort tonight, “We believe that we’re a better team than our points indicate right now. And truthfully, if you go back game by game, you can say if something had gone here—just one bounce here, just one player had made a different decision, one guy had not made a really silly mistake, or a free kick that deflects off somebody—then we have more points and are probably are about where we belong.”
On Khiry Shelton scoring his first career goal, Kreis said, “I’ve been in Khiry’s shoes, so I can say this with a lot of clarity and a lot of belief: I think that goal can put him to the next level. I think that’s what he needed. I’m quite certain that’s going to mean a lot for his confidence and that’s what he needs right now because he has got sky-high potential, but he’s still a young player.”
New York City FC David Villa said of playing with 10 men for most of the match, “I’ve been in this situation a few times in my career and to have the attitude that we had I feel that was fantastic. To score two goals and not concede any was unbelievable. I think that we needed this and I think that is going to be a good morale boost ahead of the next game against Real Salt Lake.”
New York City FC Mehdi Ballouchy on the importance of tonight’s draw, “Being down 2-0 and to come back and tie it is incredible. When we talk about expansion teams I think one of the uphill battles is the togetherness and fighting for each other, sometimes it takes a long time and I don’t think that it took long for this team. You see the way that we fight our butts off for each other and we made the come back.”
Ballouchy said of David Villa’s performance, “Some guys have played two or three different positions for us. David took a beating for us tonight and I don’t think he’s ever had that in his career. He’s used to playing a role and getting the ball at his feet and to play target man with two center backs kicking him for that ball and staying positive while leading us, he’s incredible.”
NYC FC defender Jeb Brovsky said of what this result does for the mood of the clubhouse, “I think it’s huge. I think guys came in here feeling like this is a huge moral victory. A lot of teams two-nil (British for zero) down with a man down would crumble very easily, it could end up a 5-nil game. And, I think the guys showed a lot of passion, a lot of grit, and we were smart at times, we had to be smart, we knew we couldn’t go 3-1 down in the second half and that was our Number One goal at halftime was to keep it 2-1 as long as possible. We knew we’d get an opportunity, and we had to bury it, and Khiry (Shelton) buried it.”