Mendoza the hero as New York City FC top Vancouver Whitecaps

A brace from David Villa and a goal from Steven Mendoza, his first in Major League Soccer (MLS), led New York City FC (NYCFC) to a wild 3-2 victory over the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. With the win, New York City FC provisionally move up to fourth in the Eastern Conference, and now sit at (win-loss-draw) 2-3-4 for the season. With the loss, Vancouver drop to seventh in the Western Conference and out of the playoff picture, and now sit at 3-5-2 for the season. NYCFC first-year head coach Patrick Vieira will be relieved that his side collected their first home win of the season on Saturday, even though his team’s defense didn’t cover itself in much glory. Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson will be concerned with his once-formidable ‘Caps defense, which has now given up 15 goals this season, tied for second-most in the Western Conference.  

Whitecaps get off to dream start

Whitecaps manager Robinson must have thought Saturday would be his team’s day after the Whitecaps scored just 36 seconds into the match. After an NYCFC throw-in, City defender Jason Hernandez passed the ball back to his goalkeeper, Josh Saunders. Whitecaps attacking midfielder Nicolas Mezquida astutely followed Hernandez’s pass back to Saunders, and his tenacity was rewarded when he blocked Saunders’ attempted clearance. The deflected ball rolled across NYCFC’s six-yard-box, where Whitecaps Designated Player (DP) forward Octavio Rivero pounced on the loose ball and fired it off a despairing Saunders and into the back of the net. It was the Uruguayan striker’s first goal of the season, and Whitecaps fans will be hoping that his first goal is a sign of good things to come for the much-maligned striker.

Rivero had a chance to double his season tally in the 17th minute after getting on the end of an exquisite Mezquida through-ball, but Saunders did well to force him wide of goal and right back Ethan White made a well-timed tackle to knock the ball out for a 'Caps corner kick. Unfortunately for Rivero and the Whitecaps, the striker would have to be replaced by substitute forward Blas Perez in the 27th minute. Vancouver lost its attacking momentum after Rivero departed, and just eight minutes later NYCFC equalized. Forward/right winger Khiry Shelton took the ball off of ex-NYCFC man Andrew Jacobson as Vancouver was pushing upfield. Shelton took a touch before poking the ball to an open David Villa, who fizzled a shot past goalkeeper David Ousted and into the bottom left corner of the goal. It was Villa’s fifth goal of the season, and no less than NYCFC deserved.

Just six minutes after tying the game, the man known as El Guaje (The Kid) scored his second goal of the game to give NYCFC the lead. NYCFC fan-favorite Andrea Pirlo whipped a corner kick to the far post, and the 35-year-old Villa acrobatically scissor-kicked the ball past goalkeeper Ousted and into the back of the net. It was a set-piece play straight from the NYCFC training ground, and it worked to perfection.

Vancouver entered Saturday’s match last in the league in possession stats, and they could not string together more than four passes in a row for much of the second half. Yet they had a golden opportunity to equalize in the 62nd minute, thanks to some brilliant play from left midfielder Kekuta Manneh. After controlling a bouncing ball on the left side of NYCFC’s eighteen-yard-box, Manneh dribbled through two NYCFC defenders before being dragged down by right back White just inside the box. Center referee Sorin Stoika did not hesitate to point to the spot, and ‘Caps right midfielder Christian Bolanos stepped up to take the penalty kick. Bolanos’ spot-kick was saved by goalkeeper Saunders, but the Costa Rican was first to the rebound and he blasted the ball past the NYCFC goalkeeper to make it 2-2.

Sensing that there were more goals in this game, NYCFC manager Vieira subbed on right midfielder/forward Steven Mendoza for right winger Shelton in the 67th minute. The Colombian, on loan from Brazilian side Corinthians, made Vieira look like a genius when he gave his side the lead in the 73rd minute. NYCFC left winger Thomas McNamara crossed the ball into the Whitecaps’ eighteen-yard-box, and the ball fell to Mendoza in the right side of the box. ‘Caps left back Sam Adekugbe stood off Mendoza, and the substitute made him pay, steadying himself before firing a sweet left-footed strike past Adekugbe and into the bottom right corner of the goal.

Vancouver manager Robinson threw on forward Erik Hurtado and left midfielder Cristian Techera in an attempt to grab a last-minute goal, and it was the former who had Vancouver’s best--and last--chance. In the 86th minute, a well-weighted Matias Laba long ball put Hurtado in on goal, and his right-footed shot from a difficult angle was brilliantly saved by Saunders. From then on, it was all NYCFC. NYCFC substitute Mix Diskerud’s 87th minute shot went just wide, and Mendoza’s 90th minute effort came back off the crossbar. Those two scoring chances would be the last two chances of the match, and when the final whistle sounded The Third Rail could finally celebrate their team’s first home win of the season.

Men of the match

New York City FC: David Villa

The 35-year-old Spaniard continues to carry this young NYCFC side, and he has now scored six of NYCFC’s thirteen goals this season. Besides his two goals, one of which was world-class, Villa also won numerous fouls and displayed great hold-up play, as he’s done over his entire career. Hopefully, the other forwards on this team (Mendoza, Tony Taylor, McNamara, Shelton) can learn from Villa and can start scoring goals as well, because if Villa ever gets injured or goes through a scoring drought, the whole team will suffer as a result.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Nicolas Mezquida

24-year-old Nicolas Mezquida has been one of the lone bright spots for Vancouver in this otherwise disappointing start to the season. The attacking midfielder earned an assist after deflecting NYCFC goalkeeper Saunders’ attempted clearance to Octavio Rivero, and he was one of the few Whitecaps who could actually retain possession. He also played an exquisite through ball to Rivero that should have been finished, and was all over the field in the first half. The injury to Rivero made Mezquida less effective and he was anonymous for most of the second half, but he was still the Whitecaps’ most consistent player on Saturday. His ability to harry the opposition into committing turnovers is a big asset for this Whitecaps side, and it will be interesting to see if he keeps his place in the starting eleven when DP attacking midfielder Pedro Morales returns to full training in the near future. Many Whitecaps fans will be hoping to see Mezquida, and not usual starter Morales, back in the starting lineup next week, and after today’s industrious performance, it’s easy to see why.

Nicolas Mezquida (center, #9) celebrating with teammates after scoring a goal in March 2015. Photo credit: Rich Lam/Getty Images Sport
Nicolas Mezquida (center, #9) celebrating with teammates after scoring a goal in March 2015. (Photo credit: Rich Lam/Getty Images Sport)

What's next for both teams

New York City FC will travel to RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. to take on DC United on Saturday, May 8, at 7:30 PM EST. DC United played to a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire on Saturday, and have now taken seven points from their last four games. NYCFC are 1-2-0 on the road this year, and a win on the road against a hot DC United side will be a huge morale booster for many of the young players on this team.

The Vancouver Whitecaps will return to BC Place to host the Portland Timbers on Saturday, May 7 at 5:00 PM EST. The Timbers earned a point from their mid-week game against the New England Revolution on Wednesday, but still sit in ninth place in the Western Conference. Both teams need to earn three points if they want to stay in the playoff picture in the competitive Western Conference, and it should be another feisty match between two Cascadia Cup rivals.