The unbeaten streak is over and everything is still okay.
Missing five starters in the Bronx on Sunday evening, NYCFC largely outplayed visitors from the Pacific Northwest for the second game in four days, but just didn’t have enough firepower this time to overcome a Portland Timbers team that had decided against rotating its attack.
NYCFC generated plenty of attacking possession, but with three of the team’s top goalscorers unavailable (Héber, Alexandru Mitriţǎ, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi), the starting front three of Maxi Moralez, Taty Castellanos, and Rónald Matarrita struggled to find the final pass to put the ball in the back of the net. And it didn’t help that the back five was missing Sean Johnson, Alex Callens, and James Sands as an opponent once again took advantage of NYCFC’s disastrous high line against free kicks. Sebastián Blanco’s scramble to put home a botched Sebastien Ibeagha set piece clearance turned out to be the game’s only goal.
Dome Torrent elected to start in a 4-3-3, deploying Mata as a right winger and Maxi more or less at left wing, though the Argentine often dropped deep to initiate the offense. But with a defensive-minded midfield trio of Alex Ring, Ebenezer Ofori, and Keaton Parks, NYCFC was unable to mount serious threats through the middle (and Ben Sweat’s cross attempts continued to leave a lot to be desired).
At halftime Torrent switched back to the 3-4-3, with Matarrita dropping back to his favored left wingback spot and Sweat moving inside as the left center back. It almost worked. NYCFC attacked up the wings, switching the field with long crosses, but couldn’t find the decisive run to challenge Timbers keeper Steve Clark. Though the Pigeons generated two-thirds of their 1.5 expected goals in the second half, the equalizer didn’t come.
When NYCFC wasn’t attacking the endline, possessions tended to sputter out: Alex Ring missed the final pass, Taty Castellanos got in the way of it, or Keaton Parks dribbled into trouble, too hesitant to pull the trigger. Portland focused on marking Castellanos out of the game and nobody else in blue offered the off-ball movement for a killer run.
With just four outfield players on his bench, Torrent’s only sub was Jesus Medina for Matarrita at 68′, prompting a switch to a more attacking 4-2-4 where Parks pushed high up the pitch and Sweat swung back out to left back. Playing as an inside right forward, Medina had arguably his best overall shift of the season (though that’s really not saying much).
Despite the loss, it wasn’t all bad for NYCFC. Portland fielded a strong lineup—minus Diego Chara, who came off the bench—but couldn’t win control of the game from NYCFC, which earned 67.8% possession and 1.51 expected goals to the Timbers’ 0.79. As for Dome’s depleted squad, the cavalry’s coming: Johnson and Callens return from international duty this week, most of the injured list should be available by this weekend, and new acquisition Gary Mackay-Steven will be eligible against Orlando tonight. ❧
Image: Company School, Peepal Tree