HARRISON, N.J. — The rhythm of a consistent drumbeat emanating from the New York City FC supporters’ section was absent, while the near-constant chanting typical of City home matches largely was scaled back.
But under the less than ideal circumstance of hosting a competitive match in its biggest rival’s stadium, NYCFC got the job done against AD San Carlos on Wednesday.
City dominated the Costa Rican side in the second leg of the clubs’ CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 matchup at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, winning 1-0 and advancing to the quarterfinal with a 6-3 aggregate victory.
After City controlled all aspects of the game for the first 40 minutes, Alex Callens broke through with a strong header off a corner for the opening goal NYCFC needed to all but lock up its spot in the next round.
"I think we played a really good first half, very controlled. They had only one chance the whole game, and that was in the first half . . . I was really proud of the boys in the first half,” head coach Ronny Deila said. “Nothing is easy, we did this game away and we win 5-3, so it was important to go hard to get the first goal so then you kill it.”
NYCFC hosted its first continental home match in Jersey because of ongoing field work at Yankee Stadium, as well as its inability to find a site approved by CONCACAF within the five boroughs. That circumstance coupled with an early kickoff on a cold weeknight meant a mostly empty stadium for the milestone match. The announced crowd was 4,396.
A collection of NYCFC supporters’ groups staged a boycott of the match due to its location, instead hosting a watch party at a sports bar in the Bronx. The groups’ absence was noticeable, although the fans who made the trip were vocal enough early to create enough atmosphere for players to feed off. Still, the stadium situation wasn’t far from anybody’s mind. One fan in attendance held a sign reading, ‘THIS IS NOT A HOME MATCH!!’ that was visible behind the north goal, while City fans broke out into an anti-Red Bulls chant early in the game.
“I think for us, our focus was solely on coming here and executing what we needed to do to advance to the next round," NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson said. "Obviously, it’s not ideal, but we still have to play the game as players. I’m so thankful for all the fans who came out to support us. We know it’s not an easy situation to be in playing at your rivals’ place, but they’ve been behind us at every step of the way, so the most we can do is go out and win a game for them and advance to the next round with the hopes that then it will be different.”
It’s unclear where City will play its home leg of the next round against Mexican club Tigres UANL. Yankee Stadium could be ready for play, but still would require approval by CONCACAF. The first leg of the quarterfinal will be held between March 10-12.
Wherever the match is held, NYCFC established itself as a true contender in the competition with a convincing performance. After a wild 5-3 win in the first leg, City maintained a calm control othroughout the match. The chances piled up early with Valentín Castellanos, Alexandru Mitrita and Jesús Medina all coming close to goals in the first half.
City finally broke through in the 41st minute after a Mitrita shot was deflected wide for a corner. The Romanian lined up for the corner after his near-miss and found Callens mostly open in the center of the six-yard box. San Carlos keeper Patrick Pemberton came off his line, but Callens beat him to the ball and fired a header home.
Although City maintained composure and control for the entire match, tempers ran hot and benches cleared late after a rough tackle on Gary Mackay-Steven. The Scottish winger beat San Carlos’ Pablo Arboine down the sideline near midfield and was taken out with a very high slide in the 82nd minute. The foul occurred immediately in front of NYCFC coach Ronny Deila, who then shoved the arm of Arboine, causing City captain Alex Ring and others to get involved. Arboine and Deila both were shown yellow cards.
“I overreacted a bit, but I reacted because of the tackle, because it was three or four seconds too late. I just instinctively want to protect my players, I get scared that they will get injured, but I calmed down real quick,” Deila said. “Maybe I overreacted a bit but it was good to have some energy out there.”
City’s dominance came without the presence of Brazilian striker Héber, who led the club in scoring last MLS season and scored a hat trick in the first leg.
NYCFC will look to carry the momentum from a strong CCL showing into its MLS campaign, which begins Sunday at Columbus Crew SC.