There’s nothing quite like a double game week at Yankee Stadium…
NYCFC returned to the scene of Wednesday night’s 1-0 win over Sporting KC just 72 hour later where Western Conference high-flyers Portland Timbers were the visitors.
Buoyed by his 85th minute winning goal in the afore-mentioned clash, Jack Harrison, fielded as the no.9 in the absence of David Villa, went close to netting his 10th goal of the season inside the opening 5′ but his long ranger just faded away from the target.
This promising start continued for the hosts as RJ Allen got in behind the Portland backline and delivered a dangerous cut-back which was smuggled off the toes of both Rodney Wallace and Harrison courtesy of some last ditch defending.
Chicago Fire’s draw with Red Bulls had given NYC the opportunity to move eight points clear of their nearest rivals for the final automatic MLS Playoffs berth and they certainly started this one like they sensed the opportunity to put one foot safely into the post-season.
Referee Ricardo Salazar had a huge call to make on 22′ when David Guzman appeared to drag down Maxi Moralez when the Argentine was through on goal.
Perhaps the official believed that the other defender would have had the opportunity to come around and make the challenge but it looked like a dubious one to say the least.
Andrea Pirlo came close to punishing Portland with the resulting free-kick but Jeff Attinella made the double-fisted diving save.
The dominance of Vieira’s men continued but went without reward through the first period but Timbers would have opened the scoring against the run of play, if not for Sean Johnson’s stunning save from Roy Miller’s goalbound header.
It proved to be just a momentary reprieve as Portland did score the game’s first goal through Valeri in the dying minutes of the half, capitalizing after Pirlo had been pickpocketed by Darren Mattocks.
NYCFC had been here before on a number of occasions in 2017 only to come back and take all the points, so all was not lost as Salazar sounded the half-time whistle.
Attinella was called into action inside the first two minutes of the second period as he flung himself to his right to deny Frederic Brillant’s header which had looked destined for the bottom corner.
It really was turning into a case of “everything but the finish” and Portland were looking to make good on even their tiniest glimmers of half-chances as they so nearly did on 55′ when Johnson produced another exceptional reflex stop to deny Vytas at the near post.
A minute later, Harrison fizzed in a shot which had to be parried around the post, before Johnson came to the rescue once more on 64′ with yet another world class save, denying Valeri his second goal of the game.
Sean Ugo Okoli was introduced with 25 minutes remaining but it was Moralez who was next to go within inches of an equalizer, curling his free-kick up and down over the wall but just past the angle of post and crossbar.
John Stertzer and Jonathan Lewis were sent on for the cavalry charge but, at the other end, Johnson saved his best for last, making a save which drew a collective gasp from all inside Yankee Stadium.
There was time left for a strong penalty appeal when Stertzer appeared to be pushed but it wasn’t to be and NYCFC went down to a first home defeat in five months.