For about an hour Monday morning, New York City FC looked like the same sleepy team that had yet to earn a point in MLS play in 2020.
One hydration break later, the club finally woke up.
NYCFC defeated Inter Miami CF, 1-0, in its final Group A match in the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, winning its first league match in over nine months and the first under head coach Ronny Deila.
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored the club’s lone goal in the match, bringing down a long pass from Alexandru Mitrita behind the Miami back line and finishing calmly in the 64th minute, shortly after the clubs concluded a mandated water break.
“It was for a very important game for us," Tajouri-Shradi said. "We went from the beginning much better than in other games. It was a must-win for us and we tried our best. It’s not easy in this heat to play so respect to the team who fought today really well to get three points.”
The victory clinches a third-place finish in Group A for NYCFC. The top four third-place finishers will advance to the knockout stage, meaning NYCFC will stay in Orlando as the rest of the group stage plays out to see if its tournament will continue. The last group match is scheduled for Thursday.
“Today I’m very proud of the team," Deila said. "We can talk as much as we want about chances and saves or whatever it is, but if you’re going to be a good team you need to be organized and working as a unit and be very safe defensively. Today the boys worked their [expletive] off, they were fantastic in pressure."
City appeared headed for an early trip home in the beginning. The team controlled possession for much of the first half but created few chances and couldn’t manage a shot on target. While the second half began much the same way, the brief moment of brilliance by Mitrita and Tajouri-Shradi changed the club’s fortunes with its first shot on target.
Playing from inside his own half, Mitrita sent a long ball over the top of the Inter Miami center backs into the path of a streaking Tajouri-Shradi. The Libyan international slowed down to gather the pass and corraled it with a smooth touch before sliding it past Miami keeper Luis Robles and into the bottom left corner.
NYCFC’s energy levels increased after the goal, with substitute Keaton Parks getting another shot on target soon after. But City mostly managed the game in the Florida heat, continuing to keep the ball. Miami began to attack late, even after losing Juan Agudelo in the 90th minute following his second yellow card, but City didn’t allow Miami to threaten the goal to seal victory.
“To play at 9 o’clock in the morning is really, really tough," Deila said. "It’s not about who plays good, it’s about who makes the mistakes. We didn’t do any mistakes and we didn’t give anything. Of our two chances, we took one of them and we win the game in the end.”
NOTES: Striker Héber was left out of the matchday squad because of a hamstring injury suffered in training . . . Midfielder Maxi Moralez returned after a quad injury last week in the club’s MLS is Back opener against the Philadelphia Union, entering in the 79th minute.