Almost a year to the day Sunday night, David Villa stood in the middle of Yankee Stadium addressing the New York City FC faithful. After a disappointing eighth-place finish in the team’s maiden season, he made a vow.
“I promise next year we will be back stronger and we will bring success to this city,” he said after a 3-1 loss to New England.
The Blues captain and his teammates backed those words with some impressive actions during an MLS regular-season performance that included a stunning 17-point turnaround, capped by a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Crew before 30,374 at Yankee Stadium.
Not only did City reach the postseason — it clinched a berth two weeks ago — it avoided the dreaded knockout round.
“We are happy today,” Villa said. “I don’t like to promise, but the promise was true.”
Villa and Jack Harrison each recorded a goal and an assist. Steven Mendoza and Khiry Shelton added scores as City (15-10-9, 54 points) secured second place in the Eastern Conference behind archrival Red Bulls (16-9-9, 57).
City will play the highest remaining seed that will emerge from the knockout round, in the conference semifinals. No. 3 Toronto hosts No. 6 Philadelphia Wednesday, No. 4 D.C. United welcomes No. 6 Montreal on Thursday. The first semifinal will be played away Sunday with City hosting the second leg on Nov. 6.
Villa, a vital member of Spain’s 2010 World Cup champions, gave City a passionate pre-game speech.
“I told them, the guys need to remember the first day in Florida, with the runs in preseason and today playing 90 minutes for these runs in Florida was good for us,” said Villa, who finished second to the Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips in the MLS Golden Boot race (23 goals). “The motivation today was easy. Every player today was amazing.”
His message was received by his teammates.
Mendoza lifted the Blues into the lead in the 45th minute, but Ola Kamara countered with a close-range header in the 59th minute. Two minutes after replacing Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard set up Harrison’s go-ahead goal in the 75th minute. After Harrison returned the favor to Shelton in the 77th minute, Villa capped things off with another Lampard feed three minutes into stoppage time.