(Wayne Rooney of DC United gets past a pair of NYCFC players – USA Today Sports)
In an ode to the vintage Battle of the Network Stars, Saturday at Yankee Stadium could have been called the Battle of the European Stars as Wayne Rooney of DC United battled David Villa of New York City Football Club.
Two of the best players in world soccer in the past decade, Rooney, while with Manchester United, and Villa, with Barcelona, squared off in the UEFA Champions League in 2011. Barcelona won it 3-1, with Rooney getting United’s lone goal in the 34th minute, and after Pedro scored in the 27th and Lionel Messi in the 54th, Villa put the game away in the 69th minute.
On Saturday, NYCFC and DC got after it immediately, with each team getting a quality chance in the opening few minutes.
Rooney had a couple chances early on, as he was in alone in the 20th minute, but NYCFC defenders outlasted him for the ball, and then he was taken down by James Sands in the 25th minute, but no call was made.
NYCFC put pressure on in the 26th minute, as Valentin Castellanos leaped for a long pass into the box, and he was taken down by Steve Birnbaum, but as with Rooney a minute before, play went on.
In the 38th minute, it appeared that Villa had a goal on a beautiful shot from the right side, but he was called offsides.
The game was scoreless at halftime, and NYCFC put on pressure in the 57th minute.
Villa, at the top right of the box, was going for a loose ball and was taken down. No call was made, so DC raced to the other end. Rooney took it past midfield, and after he dropped it off, was taken down and a foul was called.
NYCFC was livid that Rooney got a call and Villa didn’t, but the difference was that Rooney did not have the ball when he was taken down.
Rooney took the free kick from around the center circle, and he fired it right into the box, where Steve Birnbaum leaped over NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson and headed it in to give DC the 1-0 lead.
NYCFC had a golden opportunity in the 61st minute when Maxi Moralez did a semi-bicycle kick at the center of the box and sent it just wide of the left post.
In the 86th minute, NYCFC was deep into DC territory again, and they were awarded a penalty kick just outside the box.
Villa took the free kick from the left side of the box and he fired it over the “wall” of the DC defense towards the right post. DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid got his fingers on it, but he could not get a handle on it and it went in to tie the game at 1.
This was Villa’s 11th goal of the season, and he is now tied for the team lead with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
That wound up being the final, and it left NYCFC with just one point out of a possible six in their two games at home this week. They lost to New England 1-0 on Wednesday night.
Just as they did on Wednesday night when they outshot New England 27-11 and dominated possession, they were in control of this one.
NYCFC poured in 31 shots, nine of which were on target, to DC’s two shots overall, with one on target.
NYCFC dominated in possession in as well, with 68.4 percent to 34.8 percent for DC.
With the tie, NYCFC is now 14-7-8, with 49 points. They are now five points behind second place Atlanta (16-6-5, 54 points) and seven behind the first place Red Bulls (17-4-7, 55 points), both of whom were idol this week. Hypothetically, if NYCFC had won both of their games this week, they would be at 54, tied with Atlanta.
Not only does Atlanta have a five-point edge on NYCFC, they have two games in hand, and the Red Bulls have a six-point lead with one game in hand on NYCFC.
DC United, in eighth in the Eastern Conference, is not 8-7-11, 31 points, five points behind sixth-place Montreal for the final playoff spot.
NYCFC Head Coach Domenec Torrent took the glass-half-full approach with his team, saying of how they played, “I’m not happy just for the result. I said I’m proud of them because they played really well for me and for the effort until the last moment. We played two games in a few days and it’s not easy to play against United. That is the reason why I am very proud of them, of my players because they play much better and were able to create many, many chances but in the end, soccer, when you miss too many chances you bite.”
Torrent said of their playing style, “When I say anytime that I want to create a style, the style is the way they played tonight. Keep the ball, create chances, play inside, after that play outside, but after that the sport in general is about the result and the result is not good for us because we missed five points in the last two games in Yankee Stadium. I think it’s not fair for us. We didn’t deserve to lose the game and then draw the game but in football if you are able to score, you win, but if you are not able to score you’re in trouble. I said to them I’m really proud of you because you played really well. At the end if you are able to play that way every single game, you are ready to play in the playoffs.”
Wayne Rooney said of the draw, “Obviously, it feels like a bit of a loss at the moment, after conceding the late goal. We wanted to win the game, but the way the game went we ended up defending a lot more than we wanted. The defense was brilliant tonight, unfortunately we conceded the goal, but a point overall away from home is a good point.”
Attendance at the Battle of the European Stars was 28,239, the third-highest attendance for NYCFC at home this season. The two games against the Red Bulls each drew just over 30,000.