It’s a 90-minute game, but a three-minute stretch of play gave New York City FC enough for a victory on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
NYCFC extended its unbeaten streak to seven with a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, reaching 57 points for the season and extending their lead atop the Eastern Conference. The club sits five points clear of Philadelphia, which played to a 1-1 draw at home with LAFC, and nine points clear of third-place Atlanta, which lost 3-1 at home to Columbus.
City scored twice in a three-minute span late in the first half, getting goals from Keaton Parks and Alexandru Mitrita to reverse an early deficit. Sean Johnson was his usual self in goal, keeping his team in the match with six saves, including a few diving stops at key moments early in the second half.
MLS assist leader Maxi Moralez was held out with a hamstring injury, but City managed to win without the attacking midfielder for the first time since August 2017.
“It is very important to us, for our confidence, for our future,” said head coach Domènec Torrent of winning without Moralez. “Everyone knows how important Maxi is for us, but everybody is important for us. I prefer to play with him, of course, but that does mean the team is growing up. It is better, right now it is getting better every single day.”
The first half hour looked little like the New York City that’s climbed atop the conference in recent weeks. Typically under control of the action at Yankee Stadium, City had less than 40 percent of possession and recorded just one shot in the first 20 minutes. San Jose took the lead at the 20-minute mark when Chris Wondolowski, MLS’ all-time leading scorer, redirected a pass into the net from short range for his 14th of the season.
“They played amazing, when they had the ball they played much better than us for sure,” Torrent said of San Jose. “They played much better, especially in 30 minutes, but we adjust the shape in the last 15 minutes. I think we played much better in the last 15 minutes, and after that it’s been a crazy game.”
Soon enough, NYCFC began to wake up. Gary Mackay-Steven hit the crossbar after a designed play off a corner in the 26th minute, and Alexandru Mitrita gave NYCFC its first shot on target in the 33rd.
The chances kept coming for City as they rallied forward with halftime nearing, and the team eventually broke through in the 40th minute when Keaton Parks scored the first goal of his MLS career. Parks made the initial pass into the box, finding Mackay-Steven for a one-time shot that was pushed out by San Jose keeper Daniel Vega, only for Parks to follow up to smash home the equalizer.
“It feels really good to be able to contribute, to score my first goal and get the win today,” Parks said. “I get a lot of jokes around the locker room that I haven’t scored yet and I’ve had chances, some of them pretty easy. I missed a lot of chances, but it feels really good now and they can’t talk trash anymore.”
Just three minutes later, City took the lead on excellent bit of play from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Mitrita. With the ball in midfield, Tajouri-Shradi beat a San Jose defender before splitting the lines with a through ball to Mitrita, who took a quick touch to his right foot before sending in the go-ahead score. It was the ninth goal of the season for Mitrita, who joined the club last offseason as a designated player from Romania.
Things didn’t quite click for NYCFC in the second half as the Earthquakes defended well and returned to controlling the game, but key saves by Johnson and poor San Jose play in the final third kept the score in City’s favor.
NOTES: Ebenezer Ofori entered the game for Tajouri-Shradi in the 61st minute, making his first appearance since Aug. 11 after dealing with a knee injury...Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens returned to their starting centerback positions in their first games back from international duty, each playing a full 90 minutes...NYCFC guaranteed it will finish no lower than fourth in the Eastern Conference with the victory, securing at least one home match in the MLS Cup playoffs.