It was a cold, wet, and dreary day this past Sunday for NYCFC’s 2019 home opener, and that dreariness seemed to filter onto the pitch as the Pigeons drew with D.C United in a scoreless 0-0 affair.
The story of the match was the goalkeepers and how good both Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid of DC were to split the points. Hamid had 6 saves and Johnson had 3, but none of those saves were routine by any stretch. There were more developments in the City squad and both good and bad things to look at going forward. Some questions were answered and some unfortunately still aren’t clear and that has led doubt and ennui into the hearts of the NYCFC faithful.
Offensively, the boys in blue actually had several decent chances but the finsihing touch was lacking, mixed in with the shut down goalkeeping from Bill Hamid. Alex Ring had two of City’s best chances with a shot in the first half that sailed just over the crossbar and once again in the late stages of the match with a diving header off of an Anton Tinnerholm cross, only to be thwarted by a sprawling Hamid to keep things scoreless. Alex Mitriță also looked impressive throughout the match and was probably City’s best player besides Sean Johnson. Mitriță had some shots on target and made a few solid runs, including one where we maneuvered his way through multiple DC defenders but nothing came of it. City as a unit had 21 attempted shots, three times the amount of DC who only had 7, but of the 21 only six were on target all saved by Hamid.
City’s possession was much improved this week and they controlled the ball 66% of the time, just about two thirds of the match compared to DC’s 34% and they looked a lot better than they did in Orlando even without the finishing. They controlling the pace and tempo of the match, and due to their possession, it led to more passes, and more opportunities that they just didn’t take advantage of. But the style in which they played was much like the way City have played in the past and have been successful with the methodical, possession style game. Domenec Torrent trotted out a 4-1-4-1 formation which featured City Homegrown player James Sands playing in the holding midfielder role and he shined and has been a very pleasant surprise in this young season. He held DC’s attackers in check for the most part, including the legendary Wayne Rooney and it seems that he has cemented himself into the starting XI which allows Alex Ring to play up the field in a more offensive role and both players have been impressive in their new roles.
Sean Johnson had to be sharp from the jump as City stumbled out of the gate initially and luckily for them he was. DC attacker Luciano Acosta was left all alone in the middle of the box in the tenth minute and shot clean on net but Johnson was there with an incredible diving save to his right. That was the biggest chance of the night for either team and easily the best save by either keeper, and helped earn Johnson both Man of the Match and a place in the MLS Best XI for week 2. This was a very nice way to bounce back for Johnson who struggled mightily in Orlando and this was the kind of performance both Johnson and NYCFC needed desperately both on Sunday and looking forward to the rest of the season.
One of the newest and more analytical statistics in soccer is expected goals or xG. The stat takes all of the chances by each team and puts a quantitative number on each individually and computes a number that indicates how many goals should have been scored by each team. It also indicates how lucky or unlucky each team was in any given match. According to americansocceranalysis.com, NYCFC had an xG of 1.12 and DC had an xG of 0.67, so City had an advantage but a very slight one and a draw was probably deserved by both sides. Given that DC is regarding as one of the biggest contenders in the Eastern Conference and MLS in general, it isn’t a bad result by any stretch, but it still leaves the supporters wanting more.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for City as the undefeated LAFC come into town on Sunday for a St.Patrick’s Day matinee on the 17th at 3:00. City are both undefeated and winless and while they haven’t lost yet, draws will get this team nowhere close to where their aspirations are.
When Domenec Torrent addressed the media after the match, he said that the club was looking to add a striker “in the next 2-3 weeks”. He has said this repeatedly in the preseason and this conversation has permeated into the regular season where there is still a massive chasm at the striker position. As good as the attacking wingers and midfielders are for City, the club won’t go anywhere unless they bring in an out and out striker that can produce at a decent clip.
Time is ticking for Claudio Reyna to bring a quality player in, and waiting until the summer transfer window is risky because it might be too late at that point. Which is a shame because with a proper striker, this club can easily contend with all of the top squads in MLS. Fortunately for City there is a lot to be positive about, with the better possession, quality of Mitriță, and the emergence of James Sands. If they can just bring in a striker, the sky is the limit.
Carlos Vela and LAFC come in to the Bronx Sunday, and like against DC, this will be a massive test for City. They desperately need a win, or else this could snowball into a downward spiral and the fan base is already growing more and more impatient. There is still much more to be unraveled as the season progresses and this match will provide more answers for the boys in blue.
Featured Image: goal.com