Let me begin this with a confession. Which, I admit, is an unusual way to start a discussion of how NYCFC beat D.C. United.
I have always hated the New York Yankees.
(Don’t worry, I’ll get to what this has to do with how NYCFC beat D.C. United in about 215 words. Bear with me)
Not because of their payroll. Though sure, growing up in the frugal Midwest their ability to buy whoever they wanted, whenever they wanted, was annoying.
And not because of their swagger. Though yeah, show a little restraint. And not because Billy Martin was a punk (though he was) or because George Steinbrenner was a sociopath with a checkbook (though he was).
Or even because of their 27 world championships and countless American League and divisional crowns.
I hated them because you couldn’t kill them.
When the Yankees are really the Yankees, it doesn’t matter if it’s the top of the third with runners in scoring position and nobody out, or the bottom of the ninth and they’re down to their last strike. They still act like they’re going to win.
Any time Derek Jeter came to the plate, you knew there your team could lose. Yogi Berra, same thing. I have lost count of the number of times I have screamed at the television like some meth’d up Jafar, “How many times do I have to kill you, boy?!?!”
What the hell does any of this have to do with how NYCFC beat D.C. United on Thursday night, in the spiritual home of that team that never says die?
Because you couldn’t kill them.
Oh, sure, D.C. United tried. Almost did it too. NYCFC’s old New York Red Bull nemesis Lloyd Sam scoring in the first half felt like the beginning of the end again, didn’t it? All those nightmares in Harrison began rearing their ugly heads, didn’t they? Especially when the team went into the interval still down a goal.
And even when David Villa equalized in the 79th minute fans were not mollified (though, to be fair, what a goal). Because they knew that the Citizens are not a second half team. They’ve scored five more goals in the first half this season than they’ve conceded. But they’ve conceded four more goals in the second half than they’ve scored. With stats like that, how could NYCFC beat D.C. United?
So as the clock ticked down and fans began to calculate what one point – if they could hold on – would do to NYCFC’s position in the standings, they braced themselves for disappointment. For remember, this is the team that gave away three points to the Impact de Montreal with an extra time goal on April 27 (would love to have those back now, wouldn’t we?). And that gave up a 77th minute goal to Toronto FC that also turned three points into one. This was a team that was more than capable of turning one point back into none. And begin to slip further down the table.
And we all felt it in the stadium, didn’t we? In spite of Frank Lampard scoring in the 85th minute to put NYCFC ahead. And we really felt it when Head Referee Chris Penso called for that corner in extra time. You could hear every one in the Bronx gasp – because NYCFC are terrible on set pieces. It’s almost like we have to invent a new word for the level of disorder that ensues whenever the referee calls for a restart.
And when Lamar Neagle headed in the equalizer two minutes in to stoppage time, you knew what the fan next to you was thinking, didn’t you? You knew it because it was what you were thinking too.
“Uh oh. Here we go again.”
You could feel it, that impending disaster, like the cool breeze that hits the platform before the subway arrives.
But we didn’t. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but we didn’t.
Wait, I take that back. I do know.
Because if you were there, you heard it. The fans, chanting and clapping and screaming and almost literally reaching out on to the pitch to pull three points out of the match for their team. You could see it in David Villa’s face when Lampard put the team ahead again at 85 minutes. This was a team that was not dead yet.
And you could feel it as all hell broke loose when Lampard scored again at 93 minutes and NYCFC beat D.C. United.
It’s wins like that that make a team. That teams look back upon when times are tough to remind themselves – and each other – what they’ve been through and what they can accomplish.
What fans saw when NYCFC beat D.C. United was a team that had looked into the abyss and who had felt that cold wind of failure wafting its way up Jerome Avenue, and who had said no, not today, not this time.
And it couldn’t have happened at a better time, with the playoffs looming. Because, as the gloved one says, well, you know….