By Carlos DeJesus IV
A two faced performance on Wednesday night against the Chicago Fire at Yankee Stadium left with more questions than answers as NYCFC captured a rare 2-0 victory. The clear answer is that these Blues have officially clinched a playoff spot.
But the biggest question that remains is exactly what kind of team is this 2018 squad? Are they the snore inducing first half team we had to sit through, or are they the roar incurring second half team we love to stand with?
Another soccer night in the Bronx, another journey in search of identity. The Citizens should have come into Wednesday with blood on their breath, ready to clinch a playoff spot with a statement win. Three games left in the season means time is running low for the Citizens to rediscover their mid-season form, and a game against the 10th placed Fire seemed the perfect opportunity.
“We came out looking for a complete performance” Keeper Sean Johnson said.
Instead they came out with an uninspiring brand of possession football. Incomplete finishes continued to leave all in attendance with hands on their heads instead of raised in celebration.
“At the half Dome, (Coach Domenc Torrent) told us we came out a bit slow” Defender James Sands said. “We needed to pick up the pace”.
Averaging 62% possession through the month of September, the Blues seemed to be gathering the momentum needed to sustain a playoff run. But with three goals to show from 71 shots taken during that span, it would not be long before doubt began to creep its way into the squad.
“When we had the ball we played too easy” Coach Dome said “we played very separated and so they were able to be comfortable.”
From the sound of the 2nd half whistle, a new team seemed to inhabit the makeshift pitch in the Bronx. Quicker link up play and smarter decisions in space gave the Blues their creative edge back, only this time with a sharper tip to the spear. Alexander Ring gave the crowd what they had been waiting for since the teams last victory on August 12th, a lead.
A soft layoff from David Villa saw Ring slot a smooth left footed finish past Chicago keeper Stefan Cleveland. This being his second career MLS goal and first since April, it could not have come at a better time.
“I don’t score often, so it’s special” Ring said “but the most important thing is that we clinched a playoff spot today.”
David Villa having just finished serving one up for Ring, received reciprocation in the form of a Maxi Moralez special, his team leading 14th assist of the year providing Villa ample time to laser one to the top left corner.
Nearly equaling their September goal tally of three in a span of 5 minutes, NYCFC sat with their first two goal lead since their trip to Orlando on July 26th.
“We have a couple of games to find our rhythm” Ring said “to find the flow that we need for our players. I think that we’ll be ready when [the playoffs] start.”
On a day where dominant possession was rewarded with goals, one cannot help but wonder if this was a performance that can be replicated. Or was this just a strong showing over a basement opponent?
A Saturday trip to Minnesota should shine more light on those questions. But if one thing was surely answered Wednesday night in the Bronx and it was that NYCFC is playoff bound for their third straight year.