A heavily-rotated NYCFC XI took to the field at a bitterly cold Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night seeking to continue their excellent recent road form.
Sandwiched between trips to Dallas and Orlando, Patrick Vieira made five changes to the XI for this game against struggling Real Salt Lake to take a check on the depth chart in his squad.
He would have been pleased with what he found in the early going as his fresh XI took the lead inside three minutes through one of those players rotated in.
Sean Okoli proved why Vieira believes he is the man capable of deputizing for David Villa as he seized upon an errant RSL pass, held off a defender and embarked on a strong run through the defense before firing across the goalkeeper into the corner as he fell.
It was a perfect start for the boys in blue which sapped the energy out of a home crowd who had seen just one win in nine games in Utah and their misery was further compounded by a sleet storm which began almost immediately after the goal.
They almost had cause for some rare home cheer on 18’ when Sean Johnson spilled a long range shot but the goalkeeper reacted well, springing back to life and smothering the rebound.
That opportunity heralded an improved spell from the hosts where they began to ask questions of the NYCFC defense but the shooting was wayward until 37’ when Rusnak equalized with a bolt from the blue.
The Slovakian former Man City youth player picked it up at the top of the box and fired through Frederic Brillant’s legs, leaving Johnson grasping for air as the ball ripped into the corner.
Just five minutes into the second period, Maund met a Salt Lake corner with an emphatic header which put Mike Petke’s side in the driving seat for the first time on the night at 2-1.
Vieira immediately sent for reinforcements in the shape of David Villa and Jack Harrison and their impact was almost immediate as the latter teed up the former for a shot which brought out the best of Nick Rimando in the RSL goal.
John Stertzer, back on his old home turf, was introduced as the final roll of the dice with 20 minutes remaining but NYCFC never really threatened to equalize in the remaining minutes of a disappointing night.
“The defeat today is mine,” Vieira said. “It’s me who is responsible for the loss today because the selection of the team wasn’t good enough to compete against Salt Lake and I
take full responsibility for the performance of the team today.”
“I was thinking about the three games and of course thinking game after game and the team selection wasn’t good,” Vieira said. “I again take full responsibility of the performance of the defeat. This is mine and this is my responsibility.”
“I think we scored when we created chances it was a good finish from Ugo, but then we didn’t play enough,” Vieira said. “We were a little bit too deep and Salt Lake wanted it more than us. This is unacceptable.”
NYCFC completes the three-game road trip when they take on Orlando City SC Sunday at 7 p.m.