(NYCFC’s Jack Harrison goes up for a loose ball against Portland’s Darlington Nagbe on Saturday – USA Today Sports)
New York City Football Club hosted two of the West’s best this week at Yankee Stadium, and came away with a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday in the rain, and FILL IN on Saturday against the Portland Timbers.
Wednesday’s game with Kansas City was slow to develop and, because of the wet conditions, chances were hard to come by.
Jack Harrison broke though in the 84th minute for the lone goal of the match. It was the forward’s ninth goal of the season, and first in nine games.
Harrison said afterwards, “The last few weeks, I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself to create goals and assists for myself. It kind of got to me a little bit so I used the international break to reset myself…It took a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
Sporting KC, who is in third in the West, dropped to 10-10-6, with 40 points, on the season.
NYCFC was without their leading scorer (19 goals), Captain David Villa on Wednesday, and again on Saturday against Portland. He suffered an abductor injury last Sunday while competing with Spain in international play.
His absence was certainly seen on Saturday, as NYCFC only had 14 shots, and only three on target.
NYCFC midfielder Andrea Pirlo made his return to the starting lineup on Wednesday, and he was also in the starting 11 again on Saturday.
Pirlo has started in just 12 of NYCFC’s 28 games, and he received an appreciative applause when he took a free kick in the 23rd minute and later when he was subbed out in the second half.
The goodwill was gone shortly after, in the 44th minute, as Pirlo got the ball taken away from him on the left side in the NYCFC end by Portland’s Sebastian Blanco. Instead of chasing after Blanco and trying to get the ball back, Pirlo stood there and put his arms up looking for a call.
Blanco cruised in, and fired a pass to Diego Valeri at the top of the box, and he blasted one to make it 1-0 Portland.
NYCFC Head Coach Patrick Vieira said of Pirlo on that play, “I think it happened that he lost the ball. It just so happened that this time it was Andrea. A lot of players have lost the ball in a really difficult area, but it happened that we conceded the goal. That’s part of the game. You make a mistake and you get punished right away. We have players who make mistakes and make the wrong decision, and sometimes we conceded the goal and sometimes we don’t concede the goal, but that is not the reason why we lost the game.”
Vieira was impressed overall by Pirlo’s play, and said, “I thought Andrea had a really good game.”
NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson said of the goal, “We tried our best to cover as much of the goal as possible, but he (Valeri) is a clever player and was able to finish one. These things happen. At the end of the day, they were excellent at getting to the goal and finishing. We had the same opportunities – but we weren’t able to convert. It’s every player’s job to have the next man’s back and we tried our best to do that.”
Valeri had another great chance in the 84th minute, as he floated one on target, and Johnson flicked it away over the bar to keep it a one-goal game.
Johnson said, “Valeri is not a player that you want in front of an open goal so you just try to make yourself get a corner cross as quick as you can. You just do what you can do to keep the ball from the back of the net.”
NYCFC put a lot of pressure on at the end of regulation and into extra time. In the 95th minute, in what would be the last play of the game, Tommy McNamara took a free kick that resulted from a yellow card to Valeri.
McNamara took the kick from the left side and got a shot on target, which Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella caught to seal the victory.
With the loss, NYCFC falls to 15-5-8, 50 points, and remain in second place in the Eastern Conference. Toronto FC is in first with 59 points (17-8-3), while Chicago is in third place with 45 points (13-6-9), five points behind NYCFC.
Portland improved to 12-8-9, 44 points, and for the moment, take first place in the Western Conference, passing the Seattle Sounders (42 points, 11-9-7). Seattle hosts the ninth-place LA Galaxy Sunday night.