This was not the NYCFC team that resembled their MLS championship season only a few months ago. The Philadelphia Union saw their hopes disappear for a MLS Cup In December when NYCFC visited their home at Sabaru Park and advanced to the MLS Cup final with a 2-1 Eastern Conference win.
Saturday in the Bronx, you could call this a redemption game as the Union shut out NYCFC, 2-0 in an early season conference match. But to NYCFC, and with many holdovers from that championship team, redemption would not be the word.
They appeared lethargic. NYCFC could not move the ball to their targets. The 31st minute and a red card decision was overturned because Santiago Rodriguez made his way around goalkeeper Andre Blake and then was brought down by Philadelphia’s Jack Elliot.
The eventual decision went against the boys in blue and ruled out a potentially game changing penalty kick in addition to the red card. Bad decision and perhaps more of a team that has been tested with a hectic slate of matches.
Valentin Castellanos, tied for most MLS season goals last season, had no impact. NYCFC had scored nine goals in their last three matches dating back to their Tuesday, Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League tie against Comunicaciones FC up in Hartford and in Guatemala City, Guatemala. They scored four goals last Saturday in their home opener win last Saturday over Montreal.
Call these tired legs? Then again, when you are defending MLS champions, the schedule is a nightmare that overlaps the Champions League and beginning of the season.
Of course, this loyal fan base in the Bronx, 25,000 of them, they don’t sit. They cheered their boys In blue, however, it showed this NYCFC team needs a well deserved break in their schedule. They will get one before next Saturday on the road against Toronto FC.
This is not the NFL where they play once a week and don’t utilize the legs, feet, and muscles such as the MLS talent displays on the field. Nor is this baseball, an everyday schedule and realizing of course the MLB team, (Yankees) that plays in the same stadium is totally different.
But NYCFC and their coach said there were no excuses. They know the schedule has been rigorous. They are anticipating a well deserved hiatus from the CONCACAF Champions League and resume that portion of the schedule, April 6 in Seattle.
The coach saw some positives in the second half. There were moments when NYCFC resembled that championship team in December. However, from the opening kick, NYCFC was showing signs of that rigorous schedule.
“I think the positive was the fight,” said coach Ronny Deila. “That we never give up and we took the game into their half. We answered at the break because the first half we were sleeping in the most important situations and today we put it in their half in the second half and that shows character when you think of all we been through.”
He said it was disappointing about not getting a goal and points this early in the season. The Union will be on the schedule again and perhaps by then NYCFC will get those legs pointed in the right direction.
“At the same time, we can play in this shape,” he said. “I think it was positive. I think to see that we can be so dangerous and can press from the front it gives us more options to play in different ways in different games.”
Or was the coach resting some of his key players? The second half saw two changes as Keaton Parks and Andres Jasson were replaced and midfielder Nicholas Acevedo went to work to try and ignite something in an unaccustomed position.
”After such an important stretch of games, we are all very tired,” Acevedo said. “There has been a lot of travel lately, but that is no excuse. We have a pretty good roster and a lot of depth in the squad. We have the players to step up, so we are really just focused on improving. We have this coming week off, due to the international break, so we are going to look to recover so we can keep firing at all cylinders for the rest of the season.”
He said the break will provide needed rest to recover physically and mentally, adjust, and analyze what is ahead for the defending champions.
Yes, NYCFC are the defending champions and they want to play to their full potential. There are very few skeptics that say NYCFC will not score their amount of goals and be a part of the MLS playoff picture in late October.
“Between preseason, Champions League, the start of the league, there’s a lot of miles traveled,” said keeper and captain Sean Johnson. “Lots of miles on the legs, and mentally being away. We don’t look for excuses, But naturally, this comes at a good time that we have some time off for everybody to regroup, and refocus, and recharge because we have a long stretch after the break as well”
It’s the MLS and NYCFC that rest with a gap in the schedule. Next home game in the Bronx is Sunday April 17.
“Think we should respect and appreciate that in the sense that a lot of teams would love to have our schedule, so we have to embrace it and I think we have,” Johnson said.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso