(NYCFC’s David Villa battles LA’s Nigel de Jong – USA Today Sports)
In the battle of the European stars, New York City Football Club beat the LA Galaxy 1-0 on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
These are arguably the two highest-profile teams in the MLS, as NYCFC boasts Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, and David Villa, while Los Angeles has Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, and Ashley Cole.
This was the first time the number 8’s, English national teammates Lampard and Gerrard, faced each other in the MLS. For years, they battled in the English Premier League when Lampard’s Chelsea and Gerrard’s Liverpool vied for titles.
“It’s normal, we’re used to it. It was Lampard versus Gerrard in the England team, it was Chelsea-Liverpool for many a year. I love it,” Lampard said of his rivalry with Gerrard ahead of the match. “I think we’re more relaxed about it and we can enjoy it more these days.”
NYCFC came out strong, especially Lampard, who was looking to make something happen when he was taken down by a Galaxy defender in the box in the fifth minute. To his dismay, there was no call.
A minute later, NYCFC crashed the net, as Ronald Matarrita got off a shot, which deflected off Galaxy goaltender Clement Diop, and Villa slipped by two defenders to score.
This was Villa’s league-leading 16th goal of the season.
Villa had another big chance in the 35th minute, when he got two shots off from close range, one which was saved by Diop and then went that went off the side of the net.
Just before the half, NYCFC’s 19-year old sensation, Jack Harrison, had a big chance in the 43rd minute on a breakaway.
Harrison had another chance in the second half, in the 66th minute, when he dribbled it from the right side to the top of the box and shot it just over the crossbar.
in the 70th, Harrison set up Villa with a nice chance in the box, but a Galaxy defender kicked it away.
A minute later, LA had their best chance of the game, as Robbie Keane had a chance on a header, but he shot it just wide.
In the 75th minute, Lampard was taken down at the top of the box, and unlike earlier in the match, he got a call this time. NYCFC was awarded a free kick, but they could not cash in.
The Galaxy had another chance in the 82nd minute, as Jelle Van Damme had a big chance from the left side and got it by NYCFC goalie Josh Saunders, but it flew by the right post wide.
Unlike most games this season, the NYCFC defense closed out the final ten minutes without incident and they held on for the shutout.
This was Saunders’ seventh clean sheet of the season.
This was perhaps NYCFC’s best defensive effort of the season, as they kept LA’s high-powered offense in check and never let them hace any sustained pressure in their zone.
With the win, NYCFC improved to 11-7-8, 41 points, and maintain their one-point lead over Toronto for first place in the Eastern Conference.
“It was a really important win, and now we want to keep going,” Pirlo said through a translator when asked if NYCFC is an MLS title contender. “We started this season to try to get to the goal of MLS Cup. It’s great to be first in the standings…My whole career I’ve played to win, so I’m here for this reason.”
NYCFC FC assistant coach Christian Lattanzio coached the team in place of the suspended head coach Patrick Vieira, and he said of the match, “We have our objective, our target for the season, but we are not thinking too much ahead of ourselves.
The attendance was 35,509, second-most for NYCFC at Yankee Stadium this season. They drew 37,858 on May 21 for their game against the Red Bulls.