In less than a year, New York City FC’s stock has risen dramatically, going from league laughing stock to legitimate title contenders.
For the second consecutive home game, the second-year team made a big statement Saturday, defeating one of the league’s best sides by handing five-time champion LA Galaxy a 1-0 loss on David Villa’s goal before 35,509 at Yankee Stadium. Three weeks ago, NYC FC rolled to a 5-1 win over the Colorado Rapids, second place in the Western Conference.
The victory kept City (11-7-8, 41 points), which finished with a league-worst 10-17-7 in its 2015 expansion season, atop the Eastern Conference. LA (38), which entered the game third in the West, fell to 9-4-11.
While the playoffs don’t start until November, there is a growing feeling within the club that it can win MLS Cup.
“Maybe,” said veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo, a key member of Italy’s 2006 World Cup championship side. “We have been working since the start of the season to try to get the goal of MLS Cup.”
Defender Ronald Matarrita, who set up Villa’s goal, said the team has made great strides. After starting with a 1-3-5 home record, City has won four consecutive home matches.
“We are one of the best teams,” he said. “After the bad start at the beginning of the season, a lot of the games that we lost in the last minutes, it was very tough for us. We are feeling a lot better. Our mentality has grown.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, a Franklin Square native, was impressed. “When you have the quality of Villa, Pirlo and Lampard, that’s a terrific start,” he said.
Villa demonstrated finishing skills in the sixth minute as the onrushing Matarrita latched onto a Jack Harrison right-wing cross and fired a shot that was blocked by goalkeeper Clement Diop. Villa tapped home the rebound for his team-best 16th goal.
“David always knows where to be at the right time,” Matarrita said. “He’s always in the right spot.”
Arena didn’t think so, claiming the goal was offside.
“ missed the play,” he said. “That’s life. We didn’t do well on it anyway, so we have nothing to complain about.”
Villa was not available for comment, but he and his teammates already had made their statement on the field.