By Michael Schwartz
On what should have been a triumphant day when all three of New York City’s brightest stars came together for the first time, the Montreal Impact spoiled the party by winning 3-2. Coach Jason Kreis’ side was once again plagued by defensive lapses that cost the team dearly.
“I think we’re just trying to be more coordinated,” said Kreis when asked about what concerned him the most about the defensive performance. “Both goals came I think in very similar fashions; long balls over the top. I though the connection between the goalkeeper and the back four was a bit unclear [especially] with the communication and the decision making on both goals.”
After his side repeatedly fell victim to seemingly innocuous long balls, Kreis talked about how there wasn’t enough coordination and pressure to stop the aerial passes. It was no doubt disconcerting to see New York City this far into the season be unable to handle simple long balls.
The defensive issues overshadowed Frank Lampard’s long-awaited debut after he first signed with the expansion club 373 days ago. The Chelsea legend, who was greeted with a loud ovation when entering the match in the 69th minute, just seemed relieved to finally make his first appearance.
“Well obviously good,” said Lampard when asked how it felt to get out onto the pitch. “It’s a fantastic stadium and I’ve been watching games here now and I have been in the city for more than a month. I’m feeling excited about it but also frustrated not to contribute as it was a big moment for me to play. I just want to play more now. It’s frustrating to play in a game that we end up losing and not quite feeling right. It’s up to me to put right on the main term now and as a team it’s up to us to play well and win games.”
In order for NYCFC to start winning more games, the backline must improve which is difficult considering that they lack chemistry and organization. For New York City’s goalkeeper, Josh Saunders, the clock is ticking and he feels his backline may need to pay more attention during the video sessions in order to rectify the errors.
“We need to be winning games,” said Saunders when asked how difficult it is for the backline to play well when they’ve hardly played with each other. “We need to be getting shots. It’s going to take time. But we don’t have time. We need points so we need to work harder and to be better. Our guys need to be a little more attentive in video. We’ll move forward including myself. We realize what the strengths of the [other] teams are and where they want to be. They [the video staff] showed us that during the week and we were kind of naïve to it today so tough.”
Entering the match, Andrea Pirlo earned his first start while Mix Diskerud was surprisingly left on the bench with Ned Grabavoy starting. New York started off promisingly with so much of the early possession circulating around Pirlo. Throughout the match, the Italian maestro attempted numerous long passes from midfield with mixed results. Pirlo certainly dictated most of the New York City’s build up play as he lead the team with 97 touches and 80 passes with an 81.3 completion percentage.
It was obvious that the other players have already put their trust into Pirlo due to his composure and vision. Asked if he believes he is earning the trust of new teammates, Pirlo responded, “Yes I like to pass the ball but as I said it takes time to create a closeness and to find the right mechanism as a team all together.”
While it’s encouraging to see Pirlo settle in quickly, it won’t matter how magnificent the Italian is if the defensive issues aren’t solved. Montreal started quickly when in the 6th minute, Laurent Ciman pumped a long ball for speedster Dominic Oduro who got past Jefferson Mena and dribbled through Saunders to score. Oduro’s goal continued the trend of swift attackers causing problems for New York City’s backline.
Coach Frank Klopas’ side continued to play well after scoring by taking advantage of New York City’s high defensive line. Whether through counters, long balls, or steady build up play, Montreal put New York City under pressure very often. Montreal opportunistically took advantage of some bad giveaways by New York City in their own half. In short, Kreis felt his team’s first half performance was quite poor.
When asked about what Montreal did well at in terms of breaking down New York City’s defense, Pirlo believed the Impact are a dangerous team. “Definitely we could have done better but they were very good at attacking and hitting us from behind,” said Pirlo. “And they had some great shots.”
While David Villa was often frustrated by Montreal’s organized backline, Klopas’ side continued to cause problems going forward. They were rewarded for their sustained pressure in the 32nd minute when Andres Romero hoofed another ball over the top for Ignacio Piatti to latch onto. The Montreal midfielder chipped the ball over Saunders for their second goal. It summed up how Mena and Jason Hernandez seemed out of position for most of the half and shared little understanding with each other considering it was the first time they ever played with each other.
Despite all of their possession, New York City looked lethargic and produced zero shots on target in the first half compared to Montreal’s six. The best moment came near the end of the half when Villa scored but his goal was correctly ruled off for being offsides.
In the second half, the Impact continued to defend well as New York City struggled to find any openings. It wasn’t until the 57th minute when New York City got their first shot on target when Pirlo produced a long ball to Tommy McNamara out wide whose effort went straight at the keeper. Pirlo also attempted a powerful long-range shot that just went wide.
New York City finally made their breakthrough in the 68th minute when McNamara got behind the defense and down was taken in the box for a penalty. Villa got his thirteenth goal of the season by burying his penalty just past Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush who correctly guessed the side the Spaniard was aiming for.
A minute after Villa’s goal, New York City fans had more reason to cheer when Lampard took the pitch for the first time. Kreis took a gamble being down a goal by taking off Andrew Jacobson for the more attack-minded Englishman. Unfortunately for Kreis, it was a gamble that ultimately didn’t pay off.
Despite conceding a goal and seeing Lampard come on, Montreal kept their nerve as they nullified New York City when they tried to move forward. Disaster then struck for New York City again when Piatti got in on goal and was taken down by Saunders in the 84th minute. Piatti made Saunders go the wrong way as he restored a two goal deficit.
The two goal lead lasted for barely a minute though as Villa and Angelino combined well to set up McNamara behind the defense. McNamara buried his shot and simply showed how clutch he was by being responsible for both goals.
McNamara explained after the match about how they were successfully able to get behind the defense with both goals. Calling getting behind the defense a “dangerous position”, it was something the New York City struggled with for most of the afternoon against Montreal’s organized backline.
With all the stars that New York City now has, it’s quite amazing how a relatively unknown player like McNamara who couldn’t get into the team for the first half of the season has been consistently crucial with so many goals scored of late. When asked how good it felt to finally have all three designated players together, McNamara said that “it feels good because you can feel the buzz of the fans. You saw it last week when Pirlo came onto the pitch and you saw it this week when Lampard came onto the pitch. You hear it every time David scores a ridiculous goal. I think that the energy with the three of them out there created within the stadium is kind of focused into the rest of the team. I think it will make a big difference over the course of the season.”
During stoppage time, New York City tried to find a late equalizer but didn’t seriously threaten Montreal outside of two shots by Villa on the left that were straight at the keeper. As the final whistle blew, it was another result to rue for Kreis and his players.
It’s interesting to note New York City’s schedule as the club only has one home game during the final month of the season. The scheduling situation is no doubt done to accommodate the main tenant of Yankee Stadium, the New York Yankees, who are likely going to be competing in the playoffs during October. For New York City, a team that is trying to make a late playoff push, having so few home games at the end of the season could be a hard obstacle. That’s why dropping home matches like against Montreal could prove so costly down the road.
Overall, New York City will only make the playoffs if they improve at defending and everyone including Lampard knows it. “A few things,” said Lampard when questioned about what the teams needs to get better at. “I really think it’s a collective thing. I think we obviously need to stop conceding goals and that’s something to work together on the training ground week to week. I actually don’t want to sound too downbeat. Personally I want to get fitter. Andrea Pirlo has just turned up in time for nearly two weeks which is a long time. David Villa is scoring goals and the team is coming together. I think there is [something here to] make us able to become a real strong team and then if you look at us, if we can just win a couple of games back to back, then we will have a real shot of making the playoffs.”