The Portland Timbers took a long trip to the Bronx to take on New York City FC for their biennial fixture in Yankee Stadium on Saturday. NYCFC welcomed the Western Conference's second best team after beating Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, who currently sit third in the same conference.
New York City FC had to take on Sporting Kansas City without a big chunk of their starting lineup and Saturday in the Bronx was no different. Rodney Wallace was welcomed back into the lineup as he replaced highflying rookie, Jonathan Lewis, but for the most part the weakened lineup remained unchanged. Khiry Shelton was the only other change to the starting eleven as he replaced Sean Ugo Okoli as the 2016 USL MVP proved to be disappointing on Wednesday night.
NYCFC were not able to fill the bench on Wednesday night due to the massive injury list. The signing of Andraž Struna, however, allowed them to fill all seven bench slots on Saturday.
Valeri Breaks The Deadlock
Heading into the match on Saturday, Diego Valeri was just one goal shy of tying the MLS record of seven consecutive matches with a goal. Fortunately for him, a lackadaisical Andrea Pirlo did his best to gift him the MLS record in the 44th minute of the match. Andrea Pirlo handed the ball to Darren Mattocks and instead of chasing the Jamaican, he stood there with his arms out complaining to the ref as if a bully just stole his lunch money. Pirlo's turnover left NYCFC open at the back and Mattocks found a wide open Diego Valeri who slotted in his 17th goal of the season.
NYCFC dominated the opening 45 as the ball was in Portland's defensive third a lot more than they would have wanted. Sean Johnson was forced to make a few good saves, but for the most part NYCFC were the more dangerous side. Poor decisions in the final third made it hard for NYCFC to find space to shoot and the shots were equal at half time as each side had four attempts at goal. NYCFC headed into halftime down a goal, but knowing their was still hope as the club has the best record in MLS when conceding first.
Sean Johnson is doing his best to become apart of the discussion as best goalkeeper in MLS. The American goalkeeper earned his first USMNT call-up in years at the start of the Gold Cup in the summer after a bright start to the season. However, ever since the call-up, he seems even more improved. Sean Johnson finished the match with six saves, four of which could be save of the week candidates. Most of these saves came in the second half as he did his best to prevent Portland from doubling their lead.
Scoreless Second Half
Both sides had chances, none of them were converted. New York City FC were chasing a goal in the second half in hopes of extending their home unbeaten streak which ended at ten. NYCFC created the opportunities but lacked the finishing touch.
Portland were probably a little lucky David Villa was forced to miss the match through injury. Maxi Moralez was creating chance after chance as he has done all season, but in the end, it wasn't enough. Maxi took matters into his own hands in the final twenty minutes when he nearly picked out the corner of the goal with a free kick but the ball missed by inches.
NYCFC were forced to become more open at the back when chasing a goal in the second half which helped Portland create chances on the counter. NYCFC will be disappointed to see their streak end but with the chances of David Villa, Alex Ring and Yangel Herrera becoming increasingly more likely to return to the lineup, the boys in blue will look to bounce back next week in Colorado.
Following the loss on Saturday, New York City FC will prepare for a trip to Denver as they'll take on the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in hopes of bouncing back. Colorado are a struggling side as they have not repeated last season's success. Following the trip to Colorado, NYCFC will host the Houston Dynamo at Rentschler Field. The New York side are hoping for a good playoff run and picking up as many points as possible from the remaining regular season matches will set the side up nicely heading into the playoffs.
Portland on the other hand will be preparing for a match in Utah as they'll take on Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. Similarly to NYCFC, Portland will be hoping to pick up as many points as possible as they're near the top of a very tight Western Conference. Following the match in Utah, Portland will welcome a struggling Orlando City SC to Providence Park.