The atmosphere of the match when the whistle blew for kick-off was that of a pre-season friendly. New York City FC, who last week booked their tickets to the MLS playoffs, started the brightest, testing the Houston Dynamo down the right flank with Tommy McNamara, but their attitude and quality was far below their usual best.
Houston had chances to test Josh Saunders as the game opened up, but their efforts on goal were poor and off target, leaving the NYCFC keeper unoccupied for the opening 20 minutes. The hosts could had tested City with the number of set-pieces Dynamo had in the first half, however none of them worried the New York defence.
Despite the small attendance and eerily quiet atmosphere, the hosts were keen to put on a show for the fans that had turned up. Houston were the better side in the first half, constantly catching NYCFC napping down the wings, which caused Patrick Vieira’s side problems in the opening half.
Both keepers remained untested until the 28th minute when Joe Willis was called into action. Jack Harrison had drifted into the centre-attacking lane, and was able to curl a strike from outside the box, but the Houston goalkeeper was able to parry the tame strike with ease.
The unprofessional attitude of the game continued to be the theme of the first half. Players from both sides were giving away silly fouls with unnecessary pushes and tugs, slowing the momentum of the game and killing any potential key plays.
An entertaining second half
The second half started brightly as McNamara should had given the visitors the lead, just forty seconds after the restart. The midfielder glided his way through the Houston defence with a tantalizing run, taking out five Dynamo players in the process, and a lucky bounce inside the penalty area set the American up for a one-on-one chance, however his shot was well saved by Willis.
Villa breaks the deadlock
The game had burst into life, and NYCFC were riding off the energy as David Villa opened the scoring in the 52nd minute. A quick corner from Harrison to Andrea Pirlo picked out the NYCFC captain, and despite a heavy touch into a difficult position inside the penalty area, the former Barcelona striker fired the ball through the legs of Willis to score his 20th goal of the season, and to give the visitors the lead.
The game had finally awoken, and both teams were up for a match. Villa almost had a second goal five minutes later, as the striker was found in acres of the space on the edge of the penalty area, but his curling effort clipped the outside of the post.
Houston were also denied by the woodwork in the 72nd minute, when a great play from Andrew Wenger and Raul Rodriquez resulted in Rodriquez rifling a shot from close range off the post.
Vieira introduced Federico Bravo and Tony Taylor for Khiry Shelton and Harrison with thirteen minutes to go, as the Frenchman looked to close the game out with a 1-0 win.
The nail in the coffin
With the game drawing to a close, and Houston looking unconvincing in front of goal, NYCFC were able to pounce, and the Dynamo were picked apart in stoppage time as Villa made it 2-0.
With Houston numbers clogging up the NYCFC half, Taylor and Villa were able to counter without numbers at the back, and a simple pass from Taylor to Villa to take out the only defender saw the Spaniard rocket the ball past Willis on the edge of the penalty box, to seal the three points for New York.