As we watched NYCFC beat LA Galaxy at Yankee Stadium on August 20th (which just happened to be my mother’s birthday, and yes, she was there, with my brother), we were reminded of a scene in the 1982 movie The Verdict, when Paul Newman’s character confronts the corrupt judge who’s basically trying to screw him and his client twelve different ways:
“All I wanted out of this trial was a fair shake. You push me into court five days early, I lose my star witness… …and I can’t get a continuance. And I don’t care. I’m goin’ up there, I’m gonna try it, and let the jury decide.”
Because there were so many ways that the odds were stacked against New York City Football Club. Sure, they weren’t quite the stakes of life and death that Newman’s character was wrestling with, but they were substantial nevertheless. No Patrick Vieira on the sidelines. And no Maxime Chanot protecting the back line. Protecting the back line against an attacking Galaxy of Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, Gio Dos Santos, Mike Magee and Steven Gerard. A Galaxy who were rounding into form as they do every August. Who’d handed NYCFC one of its worst losses last season. Playing in the Bronx, where NYCFC are, inexplicably, less successful than they are on the road.
And yet, somehow, NYCFC beat LA.
Because they played as a team. A team in which every member knew his role. More than that. In which every member knew the role of every other player in the team. No, more than that even. In which every player knew where his team mates would be on the pitch at any given moment.
Not just familiarity – which cannot be over-emphasized and has been a drum we have been banging for two seasons now. Confidence. Time and again you saw NYCFC play patiently. You saw them refrain from trying to squeeze passes into spaces that were more hopeful than realistic. Time and again you saw them perfectly content to play the ball all the way back to Josh Saunders to restart an attack, confident that they would get another attempt, confident in a way they clearly were not last year.
And the result? NYCFC beat LA.
But more than that.
They got a clean sheet. Now, think about that for a second. Not because it helps whittle down Josh Saunders’s goals against average (and perhaps quiet some of his critics a bit) but for these two reasons. First, It came against a team that had scored six goals in its previous four fixtures, hadn’t been shut out in almost two months, and hadn’t lost an MLS match since traveling to Toronto in June. Not bad, huh?
And second, because not only did it come without Maxime Chanot, it also came without RJ Allen starting (though he was subbed on for Tommy MacNamara in the second half, and had a game that earned him special praise afterwards from Patrick Vieira). Which means that this team, whose back line last season was often compared unfavorably with Swiss cheese, has at least six strong options (eight, if you slide Andoni Iraola back for extra help as they did when LA was pressing, and Federico Bravo as he did when he came in for Frank Lampard in the second half).
For any team, that would be good news. For a team that has scored the second most goals in MLS this season, a strong defense is great news. But for NYCFC, it’s not quite believable.
But forget about the clean sheet. When NYCFC beat LA they got a win at home. And while that doesn’t make their record at Yankee Stadium better than any other playoff contenders, it keeps them undefeated there since June, and gives watchers hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ve finally figured out what it takes to win in the Bronx.
But forget about it being at home. When NYCFC beat LA they got a win. A win, it turned out later that day, that they really needed. Because while Toronto FC’s victory over the Philadelphia Union knocked the Sons of Ben a little further down the table, it also would have put the Reds in first place, had not NYCFC, you know…
And that win also moved NYCFC further away from the Montreal Impact, who were somehow beaten by the Chicago Fire (on the road? is this the curse of Harry Shipp?), and edged them a little further away from the New York Red Bulls who squandered yet another late lead.
But wait, there’s more.
Best of all, when NYCFC beat LA, they gave themselves (if we are reading Sportsclubstats.com’s charts correctly, which, you know, is 50/50 at best), a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs right now.
For all of us who sat through last season, let’s just repeat that a second.
A 99.9% chance of making the playoffs.
Heck, they give NYCFC a 96.2% chance of making the playoffs if City manage to win just one game the rest of the season.
One game. Out of eight.
Which, coincidentally is how many road games Chicago has won since NYCFC have been in existence.
Or how many road games DC United have won this season.
Or Columbus Crew have.
All of whom are coming to the Bronx.
See you there.