Patrick Vieira’s biggest fears never became reality Thursday night.
After two big wins — against defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders and Hudson River Derby rivals the Red Bulls — the New York City FC head coach was worried about a letdown against struggling Minnesota United.
He didn’t have to.
Jack Harrison and David Villa made sure of that as they scored second-half goals to snap a 1-1 deadlock as City never let up en route to a 3-1 victory before 21,572 at Yankee Stadium.
“I’m really pleased. We showed a lot of character today,” Vieira said. “It was a challenge for the players to show we can play with a lot of intensity. We played really well.
“I enjoyed more of this game than the last game against the Red Bulls. It was the way we fought back and the way we kept our concentration higher.”
City (10-5-3, 33 points), which won a team-record fourth consecutive match, moved within two points of Eastern Conference leader and idle Toronto FC (10-2-5, 35). United (5-10-3) has allowed a league-high 41 goals.
Harrison snapped a 1-1 deadlock in the 52nd minute, heading Rodney Wallace’s left-wing cross past goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth from eight yards. Villa gave the hosts some breathing room in the 63rd minute, capping a run into the area by rifling 12-yard shot home for his team-high 11th goal this season.
In the ninth minute, City suffered a double loss. First, Mikey Lopez replaced injured right back Ronald Matarrita, making his first start since returning from an ankle ailment.
Only 31 seconds after Lopez came on, United scored. Johan Venegas fired a shot from distance that goalkeeper Eirik Johansen spilled, allowing Christian Ramirez to slam home the rebound from three yards.
“The goal we conceded he (Johansen) could do better,” Vieira said. “I was really pleased with the reaction he had after that.”
NYCFC equalized in the 38th minute on some nifty teamwork between Alex Callens and Ben Sweat on the left side. The center back passed to Sweat, who ran into the penalty area. Sweat lost the ball, which still went to the overlapping Callens, who slotted the ball past Shuttleworth from six yards.
The biggest ovation of the match came for Italian international midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who made his first appearance since a loss at Real Salt Lake May 17. Pirlo, who replaced Wallace in the 78th minute, had been sidelined with a knee injury.