As early as Saturday night, New York City FC could very well be celebrating its first Major League Soccer playoff berth.
City did its part Friday night, recording an emphatic 4-1 victory over the Chicago Fire before 25,011 at Yankee Stadium to climb back into first place in the Eastern Conference.
One of three things must happen this weekend for the second-year team to secure a postseason spot:
On Saturday, either Orlando and D.C. tie or the Red Bulls defeat Montreal; or on Sunday, New England draws or loses against Columbus.
NYC captain David Villa scored twice and set up Steven Mendoza’s goal. Jefferson Mena added another for NYC (13-9-9, 48 points), which moved past Toronto FC (13-8-8, 47). Chicago (6-14-9, 27) remained in last place.
Last year, City fired coach Jason Kreis after a disappointing maiden season in which the 10-17-7 team failed to reach the playoffs, despite some high-priced talent.
“Sometimes people look at the players we have and they think it’s easy but it’s not,” Villa said. “We are a young team, we are only 1 1⁄2 years old and we are fighting against teams that have been playing for 20 years. We are very happy and very proud.
“We are happy to make history.”
Head coach Patrick Vieira, however, wasn’t about to assume anything.
“I’m really pleased with the win, but especially with the way we played,” he said. “We are not there yet. We have to wait for the games played before we are really satisfied.”
After failing to score in two consecutive matches, Villa came back with a vengeance with a virtuoso performance. He has 19 goals, second in the league behind the Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips (20).
“When he is playing like that, nobody can stop him,” Vieira said. “From the first minute, the way he was closing people down, the way he’s fighting. He’s captain of the team, a leader. Tonight’s performance was one of the best I have seen him.”
This encounter was decided by a pair of one-minute bursts in the opening half.
City struck twice within a 62-second span. Mena headed home a Khiry Shelton (three assists) right-wing cross from point-blank range past goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the eighth minute. The crowd was barely finished celebrating before Villa converted a Shelton feed off a turnover a minute later.
After Luis Solignac sliced the deficit in half in the 35th minute, the game again changed dramatically within a minute.
After Arturo Alvarez ripped a shot off the right post in the 43rd minute. City came back down the field as Mendoza, in the lineup for the injured Frank Lampard, drilled 23-yard blast into the left side for a 3-1 advantage a minute later.
Villa capped off a memorable night in the 83rd minute.