Let others speak of the weather. Let others of the quality of the pitch (I’m looking at you Osvaldo Alonso). And let still others celebrate the milestone NYCFC’s captain reached on Saturday. They will no doubt do those topics justice. For me, however, there were other things that made NYCFC’s victory over the Seattle Sounders important, things that might have gotten lost in the hoopla and the rain.
Rain: Why It Was Important That NYCFC Beat Seattle
Because the Pitch Was a Waterlogged Nightmare
It has become traditional in post-game interviews for players to avoid laying the blame for the loss – or the victory – on the playing conditions. “Both teams played on the same pitch” they will say, with almost mechanical predictability. And of course, that’s true. The problem with that statement, however, is that it pre-supposes that all teams play the same kind of game, and that different approaches and styles are not adversely affected by monsoon conditions. I would submit that for a team like NYCFC, which relies heavily on possession, on sharp passing, and on timing, that the inconsistent swampiness of Yankee Stadium was more of a challenge for them than it was for their rivals in rave green. The fact that they still managed three points in spite of that is a very good sign.
Because They Did It Without Maxi Moralez
How many times have I sung the praises of the man fans call frasquito? How many times have I celebrated the communication between him and David Villa? Between him and Alex Ring? How many? Even I have lost count. So when NYCFC beat the Sounders, they demonstrated that they can still move the ball up the pitch and transition from defense to attack without him – both of which they struggled to do in the Open Cup. Did the bad weather and field conditions help? Yes, probably. Did the return of Yangel Hererra and the hard work of Jack Harrison help even more? Undoubtedly. And that’s the best news of all.
Because They Did It Against Seattle’s Top Talent
When NYCFC beat the Sounders last year at CenturyLink Field, Clint Dempsey was injured and Nicolas Lodeiro was not yet a member of the team. Only Jordan Morris was on the pitch. But this year all three were in the starting XI. Plus Harry Shipp. Plus Chad Marshall. Plus Osvaldo Alonso. And Will Bruin and Roman Torres on the bench. In other words, this was not a limping, sagging, staggering version of the Sounders that NYCFC were facing. This was the A team. An A-team, it should be noted that had by-and-large gotten a breather when their B-side took the pitch to beat Portland in their U.S. Open Cup match. So a victory over this Seattle is a real victory.
Because They Came Back From a Deficit
Things did not look promising for City at the half, did they? The rain was getting worse, the field was looking like a refugee from the Harlem River, and NYCFC had just given up a goal to Cristian Roldan. Everyone who thought that Seattle would just bunker down and stonewall the second half, please raise your hand. I know it’s what I would have done. And maybe they tried and NYCFC wouldn’t let them. But that’s the point. Teams need games like this, to remind each other that it’s not over until the final whistle blows. To encourage each other to keep banging against that wall until it breaks. On Saturday, NYCFC broke through. Let’s see what strength they can draw from that when they’re faced with future challenges.
Okay, here’s a weird little thing. Every season in which NYCFC defeat the defending MLS Cup champions, they make the playoffs. Now, you can call bullshit on this if you like, complain about the small sample size, post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that jazz, and I wouldn’t blame you. All the same, in 2016 NYCFC beat defending champions Portland Timbers, and they made the playoffs. In 2015 they got shellacked by the LA Galaxy and they didn’t. So you tell me what it means when NYCFC beat the Sounders. Oh, and by the same score they beat Portland by too.
Because They Avoid Heading Into Next Week’s Game With a Losing Streak
With the international layoff and the U.S. Open Cup match, it’s been a weird month for NYCFC. Had they lost to Seattle, had the shutout that Stefan Frei was pitching in the first half stood, NYCFC would have been held scoreless for three straight weeks heading into the Hudson River Derby. And remember, the last goals NYCFC scored prior to David Villa’s brace, the two that came in that June 3rd match against Philadelphia, were scored by NYCFC’s defense. A drought that long by your top line starts to make players touchy, coaches itchy, and fans nervous. Especially when they’re all traveling to one of the few venues in the Eastern Conference that the team haven’t taken points from.
But they did score.
And then they scored again.
And then NYCFC beat the Sounders.
And that makes the future look pretty sunny, actually.