In the process of earning three unneeded points on MLS Decision Day, New York City FC picked up a few untimely injuries that could prove key in the upcoming MLS Cup playoffs.
A week after clinching the Eastern Conference’s top seed, NYCFC controlled most of the action against the Philadelphia Union in its regular-season finale, raising its club-record point total to 64 with a 2-1 win Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia.
City, however, lost Héber Araujo dos Santos to a lower-leg injury during warm-ups, forcing the club to scratch its leading goal scorer minutes before kickoff for Ronald Matarrita. Another attacker was lost when Ismael Tajouri-Shradi suffered an ankle injury on a hard tackle, exiting for Jesus Medina in the 32nd minute.
NYCFC wasted little time getting out in front. Carrying the ball on the left side, Ben Sweat fed Valentin Castellanos at the top of the box. Castellanos redirected the ball with his first touch to a cutting Matarrita, who then corralled the ball before shooting past Union goalie Andre Blake in the seventh minute, scoring his first goal of the season.
Before his injury, Tajouri-Shradi found his way on the scoresheet with his fifth goal of the year. Controlling the ball near the top right corner of the box, Tajouri-Shradi dribbled back outside the box and toward the center of the field before chipping a ball toward Castellanos running near the penalty spot. But a deflection off a Philadelphia defender changed the ball’s trajectory, catching Blake out of position as it sailed over his head into the back of the net.
City was rarely threatened in the first half by Philadelphia, who finished the regular-season in third place in the Eastern Conference with 55 points. But the Union showed up in the final 45 minutes and came close on a handful of chances. Philly got one back in the 87th minute on a penalty kick by Marco Fabián after a handball by Ebenezer Ofori in the corner of the box. The Union continued to threaten in the closing moments as NYCFC looked tired at the end.
While NYCFC lost two attackers to injury Sunday, two key defenders returned. Anton Tinnerholm started at right back after missing the last two matches with a concussion, coming off just before stoppage time. James Sands played his first minutes since Aug. 17, entering in the 82nd minute and closing out the game. The 19-year-old homegrown product made 18 starts this season but missed the previous nine matches while recovering from a broken collarbone.
By earning the No. 1 seed, NYCFC earned a bye in the first round of the postseason. The club will host the winner of No. 4 Toronto FC and No. 5 DC United on Oct. 23 or 24 at either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field, depending on how far the Yankees advance in the MLB postseason.