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Valentín Castellanos' goal is all NYCFC needed to beat Columbus

Teammates watch as New York City FC midfielder

Teammates watch as New York City FC midfielder Valentin Castellanos, center, and forward Heber, right, do a little dance after Castellanos scored during the first half of a match against the Columbus Crew on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

New York City FC deserved two, three, maybe four goals in the first half against Columbus Crew.

One goal was all they got, but it turned out to be enough to earn the three points on Wednesday night.

NYCFC defeated Columbus 1-0 at Yankee Stadium after dominating play in the first half, culminating in Valentín Castellanos’ goal that proved to be the difference.

With 70.5 percent of possession and nearly every scoring chance in the first half, City finally got the goal it deserved in the 36th minute. As Maxi Moralez dribbled the ball toward the center of the field, waiting for his teammates to make a move, Castellanos darted in front of the left back and behind the center back.

Moralez chipped the ball over the defense into the feet of Castellanos, who slotted the ball past the charging keeper and into the bottom left corner of the goal.

The Crew defenders appealed for an offside call, but the goal stood to give NYCFC the only goal it would need.

“Maxi gave me a great pass like usual,” Castellanos said through a translator. “Whenever he gives me a pass I try to take a step back so I can be onside, and of course, once I scored the goal I didn’t have a doubt that I was onside.”

Moralez was the facilitator for a few chances early, but City spent much of the first half attacking through their fullbacks, who pushed high in possession with ease. Right back Anton Tinnerholm was especially involved after missing Saturday’s match at FC Cincinnati. He  put numerous crosses into the box throughout the half while showing little sign of a lingering hamstring injury.

The victory is NYCFC’s second in five days following a victory at FC Cincinnati over the weekend. ew York (12-5-8) won for the fifth time in seven games to move within a point of Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia and Atlanta.The club is back in action in just three days with a derby match against the Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium.

NYCFC nearly went ahead in the 20th minute on their second consecutive corner when Ronald Matarrita’s kick found Maxime Chanot over the middle, but the whistle was blown for an off-ball foul before the ball even crossed the goal line. Just before that, Matarrita found captain Alex Ring near the top of the box, but his side volley was right at keeper Eloy Room.

Columbus attacked with more effectiveness in the second half, but lacked the quality in the final third to really challenge Sean Johnson in net. While NYCFC wasn’t as dominant, they had a few moments to get some insurance, but ultimately failed.

“It was two completely different halves,” Tinnerholm said. “In the first half we kept dominating the game and playing exactly the way we wanted, we were just missing a second goal and I think the game is over. In the second half they put the pressure a little bit higher and we need to find a way how to manage that because we know against Red Bull they’re probably going to put the pressure high and it’s going to be a completely different game.”

In the 54th minute, NYCFC nearly doubled the lead after some impressive attacking play from the back. After Moralez worked the ball up the middle of the field, he found Castellanos to the right for an aerial pass to Héber Arújo dos Santos, but the Brazilian couldn’t get on top of the ball to get the header on target.

“I thought we could get another one, but of course we had control of the ball and when you have control of the ball you just have to play smart,” Castellanos said. “If a second one were to come, then we’d get it.”

Columbus nearly got on the board in the 69th minute when Johnson came out of his net to the right to defend a run by David Accam which left his net open briefly, but Jordan Hamilton couldn’t put the follow-up on target.

Columbus continued to threaten late, getting a header from Hamilton on target in the 82nd minute, but another offside flag canceled out the chance.

As Columbus pressed higher in the closing minutes aiming for an equalizer, NYCFC found success on the counter attack. Coming off the bench, Alexandru Mitrita made a pair of long runs with possession, first sending a cross to Héber that went off target, then taking a shot of his own that couldn’t get past Room.

Columbus had one final chance with a corner in stoppage time, and the crowd collectively gasped when the ball found a Crew attacker’s feet in front of net, but an offside flag calmed their nerves seconds before the final whistle sounded.

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